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Globe, Herald circulation tumbles

Higher prices and Internet use are key factors

By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / October 27, 2009

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Circulation at The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and many other newspapers around the country fell sharply in the six-month period that ended in September as more readers got their news and information from the Internet.

The Globe’s daily circulation dropped 18.5 percent to 264,105, while the Herald’s fell 17.5 percent to 138,260, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tracks industry results. The Boston Sunday Globe’s circulation declined 16.9 percent in the period to 418,529, while the Herald’s Sunday circulation fell 4.4 percent to 95,635.

The circulation declines hurt an industry already reeling from the difficult economy as well as continuing changes in the habits of readers and advertisers. As a result, a number of news organizations, including The New York Times Co., the owner of the Globe, have sharply raised subscriber and newsstand prices in an effort to generate increased circulation revenue even as the number of papers sold declines. Raising prices helps pay for the full cost of putting out the newspaper, which historically had been subsidized by robust advertising revenue.

The strategy has shown some early success. Though the Times Co. still reported a third-quarter net loss, it also said that total circulation revenue grew 6.7 percent and that circulation revenue at the company’s New England Media Group, which includes the Globe, rose 18.4 percent.

“Our print audience strategy is largely focused on the 90 percent of our subscribers who have been with us for two or more years,’’ Globe spokesman Robert Powers said in an e-mail.

The Boston Herald also raised prices earlier this year. Patrick Purcell, publisher of the Herald, declined comment.

Nationally, daily circulation of 379 newspapers dropped 10.6 percent, double the rate of decline a year earlier. Among the biggest declines were the Dallas Morning News, down 22.2 percent, the San Francisco Chronicle, off 25 percent, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, with a drop of 20 percent.

“It’s terrible, worse than I thought,’’ said Ed Torino, managing director of New York-based Benchmark Co. and a media analyst.

Torino said many younger readers aren’t picking up the newspaper and some longtime readers “have shifted to reading online, given up the newspaper, or are just getting it on the weekend.’’

As circulation has fallen over the years, readers have flocked to newspaper websites. While the Globe’s daily paid circulation is now below 300,000, Boston.com, the Globe’s free website, had 5.2 million unique visitors in September, according to Nielson Netview research.

Among the country’s largest newspapers, daily circulation at The New York Times dropped 7.3 percent, Gannett-owned USA Today’s daily circulation fell 17.2 percent, and the Los Angeles Times circulation declined 11 percent.

The Wall Street Journal overtook USA Today as the No. 1 daily in the country with a 0.6 percent increase to more than 2 million subscribers. The Journal reported that it was helped by the number of paid online subscribers, which is being included in the audit circulation figures, though the number of print subscribers fell slightly.

A few other newspapers reported increases, like the New Haven Register (up 0.8 percent), but not enough to encourage analysts.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, daily circulation at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette fell 7.8 percent, the Springfield Republican dropped 11 percent, and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy declined 9.1 percent.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.