Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Shoe Drops, News-Press Continues to Lose Readers

Wendy McCaw's Santa Barbara News-Press saw its Monday through Friday circulation numbers for the sixth-month period ending September 30th decline 3.6 percent — to 32,534 from 33,756. Its Sunday circulation for that same period also fell — to 33,576 from 34,746, a 3.3 percent decline compared to the same period in 2007.

Those daily totals mean a loss of 1,222 copies. The Sunday circulation totals add up to a loss of 1,170 copies.

Here's a running circulation count since McCaw assumed ownership of the News-Press:

45,300 (Oct. 2000)
43,600 (Jan 2005)
41,000 (Oct 2006)
37,730 (March 2007)
33,756 (Oct. 2007)
32,534 (Oct. 2008)

To put it another way, when Wendy got the keys to the News-Press building from the New York Times Company, it was a 45,000 daily circulation paper. Now, eight years later she has a 33,000 daily circulation paper on her hands. That's a decline of 27 percent.

Those figures are unaudited and are for Monday through Friday circulation.

The News-Press' drop of 3.6 percent isn't as bad as the industrywide average which declined nearly 5 percent from the previous year.

And the Christian Science Monitor, currently published Monday through Friday, will move to online only in April. The only remnant of it's physical print product will be a weekend magazine.

Is decreasing circulation inevitable for every newspaper these days? Not necessarily. The Santa Maria Times saw its Monday-through-Friday circulation rise 2 percent — to 18,823 from 18,439, perhaps proving that papers in smaller markets that are removed from the urban centers can capitalize on their ability to deliver local news to their readers.

That is if the owners of those papers stay out of the way and let their editors and reporters do their jobs.

* * *

In other News-Press related news it was announced yesterday that the newspaper's suit against the City of Santa Barbara for violating the open meeting provisions of California's Brown Act has been settled.

The settlement involved the City acknowledging that members of its Transportation and Circulation Committee "may" have violated the Act. However, the City will not be paying any money to the News-Press and each side will bear the responsibility of its own attorneys' fees and costs.

A Scott Steepleton by-lined article in today's News-Press appears to be spinning this as a victory for the paper. But in light of the fact that no money is changing hands and each side bearing their own fees, claiming that they "won a judgment" when in fact the case was settled sounds like puffery to me.