Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Latest Circulation Numbers for Lee Enterprises, Inc. and the Post-Star

14th in a series by contributor Mark Wilson
(©2011 Mark Wilson)

The semi-annual report of American newspaper paid circulation was released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Readership of Lee Enterprises, Inc. daily newspapers continues to drop, with total circulation loss from a year ago at 41,298 (or 2.99 percent).

The Post-Star, which in recent years has suffered some of the worst percentage circulation losses of all Lee newspapers, improved its standing among its peers in the latest filing. The paper—still fourteenth largest in Lee’s stable with average daily circulation of 26,113—lost 665 paying readers since last year. That loss amounted to less than 2.5% of its circulation, which is better than Lee’s average percentage loss since last year, and better than the numbers the Post-Star posted six months ago. A complete breakdown of the latest circulation figures can be found here.
Since the last circulation numbers came out, Lee has combined two Illinois dailies—the Journal Gazette of Mattoon and the Times Courier of Charleston — reducing to 52 the number of daily newspapers owned or partially owned by the company. Since 2008 Lee has shuttered two papers and merged two others. The Davenport, Iowa-based company is still looking to restructure a roughly one billion dollar debt that comes due in just over five months.
On a personal note: Friday, November 4th was Mark Mahoney’s last day as the Post-Star’s Editorial Page Editor, and chief editorial opinion writer. He will soon put his legendary reasoning and writing skills to work for the New York State Bar Association in Albany. As a onetime contributor to Mark’s pages (and who, on at least one occasion, caused him all sorts of grief), I wish him all the best in his new career.


Brian said...

Well if the person who created of that cartoon and someone who wrote a letter to the editor denouncing said cartoon can reconcile, then anything's possible in this world. =)

Mark Wilson said...

I seem to recall fleeing the country on a delayed honeymoon immediately after the "Badley-Luzer" cartoon hit the fan. Sorry to miss your letter. I sure hope you didn't hold my mean-spiritedness and my poor artistic skills against Tingley and Mahoney.

On another matter, I misstated the fates of the four newspapers that Lee no longer lists in its holdings. One paper, the Daily Chronicle of Dekalb, IL was sold to Shaw Newspapers. Three other papers merged in one form or another: the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin became an internet publication with twice-weekly print editions that are supplements to the Wisconsin State Journal; the South Idaho Press merged with the Times News of Twin Falls, ID; and the Times Courier of Mattoon, IL merged with the Journal Gazette of Charleston, IL.

Brian said...

Lord knows, I have other things to hold against Tingley. I don't hold it against you. I've been in the opinionating business long enough to know that you can't do it right without pissing people off once in a while.

Stephen said...

These are hard numbers to compare since the ABC changed the rules late in 2010. However it is clear that the print decline is relentless.

I cant help but notice though that at the six Lee papers with paywalls, the MARCH-september numbers have been flat. This is striking to me since papers usually lose subscribers during the march-september comparison. And striking cause the paywalls had only been up three weeks at the time of the count. I think we might see more paywalls at Lee...

Mark Wilson said...

As I understand it, the auditing changes ABC implemented last year and earlier this year were mostly additive in nature, counting each subscribed e-edition issue as a single circulation unit (same as a hard copy purchase); or including numbers for zoned editions as numbers for the parent paper. Other changes included expanding to count (independently) website hits.

So if anything, the new changes for the average daily circulation tabulation should result in slightly higher numbers. But at the end of the day, boosting the print numbers in the way ABC has seems to result in a consistent comparison.

Stephen said...

You are correct. From what i have seen, the ABC changes put into place after september 2010 have inflated the numbers. This is probably a bit more reflective of true circulation, but is also a blatant attempt to inflate nonetheless.
I chose the march-september time frame for comparison because both those measurements were after the adjustment.
Looking at the numbers some more, i notice that the six Lee papers with paywalls stayed flat or rose in that six month period. Nearly every other Lee paper declined in that six month period, as we would expect from the summer season, and the thus-far secular decline in papers. I also notice that the numbers are a six month AVERAGE. This is interesting. If paywalls did cause the circulation stabilization, then the circulations actually probably rose, since the paywalls were up for less than two of the six months. Considering that the NYT is gonna have almost 300k paywall subscribers in the next few months, I assume that lee execs are looking at the numbers with a lot of interest.