Newspapers report slight increase in circulation

NEW YORK — U.S. newspapers reported a slight increase in circulation the past year as more readers purchased digital subscriptions, according to a media industry group.

Average daily circulation in the six months that ended on March 31, rose nearly 1 percent for the 618 newspapers that participated in the Audit Bureau of Circulations semi-annual study, which was released Tuesday.

Digital circulation, which includes subscribers who access content on tablet computers, smartphones, e-readers and websites, accounted for 14.2 percent of overall circulation. That was up from 8.6 percent in the October-March period a year earlier.

Demand for digital content helped offset a decline in print circulation. Weekday digital circulation grew 61.6 percent while print circulation fell 6.7 percent. Circulation of so-called branded editions, such as alternative-language editions of newspapers, increased 33.7 percent.

The Wall Street Journal remains the No. 1 U.S. newspaper, with average weekday circulation of 2.1 million, about the same as a year earlier. The Journal has more than 1.5 million print subscribers and nearly 560,000 digital subscribers, according to the report.

USA Today ranked No. 2, with 1.8 million, down less than 1 percent. The New York Times was third with 1.6 million, up 73.1 percent. The Times’ circulation increased after it started charging online readers without a print subscription to gain unlimited online access. The newspaper now has roughly 780,000 print subscribers and 807,000 digital subscribers.

Circulation for the 532 newspapers that report Sunday data grew 5 percent. The New York Times had the highest Sunday circulation with 2 million, up 49.6 percent from a year earlier. Neither the Journal nor USA Today publishes on Sunday.

The Times said its print circulation continued to decline, but said the inclusion of a free digital subscription with a Sunday home delivery subscription helped increase Sunday print circulation.

Circulation numbers affect advertising rates at newspapers, which count print ads as their main source of revenue. Print advertising revenue has been declining in recent years as readers and advertisers shift to the Internet. The economic downturn accelerated the decline. Some newspapers have seen growth in digital ad revenue, but it hasn’t been enough to offset the losses in print advertising.

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