Looking at the best available circulation data for public companies – those found in their regulated financial statements – the Milwaukee Business Journal reports Journal Sentinel owner Gannett sets new round of early retirements, Journal Sentinel print circulation slides another 27% (“The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s weekday print edition circulation fell below 100,000 for the first time and is down 27 percent from one year ago” [10.2018 to 10.2017], Journal Sentinel hiking subscription price by 28%, and earlier Journal Sentinel circulation declines 20-plus percent [for calendar year 2017].
Worse, as Ken Doctor writes about Gannett in a different publication, digital editions of many medium or small papers are actually tiny:
Gannett, like a number of other newspaper companies, has more than a third of its print subscribers ages 70 or above in many markets. Most read in print; digital is a second and lesser option. (E-edition readers, who essentially get the print paper in digital form, will also be impacted by this decision.) Those subscribers, at Gannett and elsewhere, have seen their subscription rates hiked again and again, raised to the very limits of econometric modeling.
In Des Moines, the Register now sells 87,000 Sunday and 48,000 daily print copies. Two short years ago, those numbers stood at 122,000 and 66,000. That’s a drop of more than 27 percent in 24 months. Digital subscriptions have increased over that same period — but only from 4,100 to 6,000.
Or look at a smaller market: The Reno Gazette-Journal now sells 22,000 Sunday and 16,000 daily print copies. Two years ago, those numbers were 31,000 and 24,000. Those are declines of 24 percent and 33 percent. Digital subscriptions have climbed from 1,500 to 2,500 over the same period.
Public numbers. These are large print declines, but the only reason one can be sure of them is that Gannett has to report them in a financial filing; failure to do so would risk both government and shareholder actions.
Third-party information on circulation often lags years behind these up-to-date numbers. For example, Wikipedia still lists – as of this post – a daily circulation of 207,000 for the JS, and the Mondo Times lists a figure of 185,000. The accurate current number is under 100,000.
Small private companies. With small private-company newspapers, as in our area, only God and their publishers can be sure of their true circulation numbers.
It strains believability when a local, afternoon newspaper contends that its print numbers are up. (Afternoon editions are considered the weakest offering by time of day, and are defunct in most cities.)
Digital. Ken Doctor’s reporting on print versus digital numbers reveals how hard it is for old print publications to make the switch to digital: print numbers are declining steeply, but digital offerings from these print publications are mostly unwanted, with relatively few takers.
For a website like this one, unlike nearby newspapers in almost certain (but unacknowledged) decline and where those papers have dim prospects for digital, the best course is simply a daily commitment to first principles, diligently applied.