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Newspaper Circulation Continues to Decline

Internet, Cable Cited as Competition

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 3, 2005; Page E03

Circulation at 814 of the nation's largest daily newspapers declined 1.9 percent over the six months ended March 31 compared with the same period last year, an industry trade group reported yesterday.

The decline continued a 20-year trend in the newspaper industry as people increasingly turn to other media such as the Internet and 24-hour cable news networks for information.

Newspaper industry officials also blamed the National Do Not Call Registry, which has forced newspapers to rely less on telemarketing to secure subscribers, and a shift in strategy among major newspapers away from using short-term promotions to acquire new readers.

"Of all the things that have happened, [the change in telemarketing rules] had the single largest impact," said John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, an industry trade group. Newspapers relied on telemarketing to acquire an average of 60 to 65 percent of their home delivery subscribers, Kimball said. As a result of the registry, newspapers have cut that figure down to 50 or 55 percent.

Kimball also said newspapers are focusing less on short-term promotions and more on going after people who are likely to subscribe for a longer period. Such subscribers "take a lot longer to acquire in the first place, and acquisition costs are higher," he said.

For the six months ended March 31, The Washington Post reported a weekday circulation decline of 2.7 percent, to 751,871, compared with the corresponding period a year earlier. Sunday circulation decreased 2.4 percent, to 1,000,565.

Post executives said the company is relying slightly less on so-called third-party sales, in which newspapers sell copies in bulk at a discounted rate to outside groups that distribute the paper, usually for free. But executives did not attribute the decline to any one factor and said the figures are an improvement.

"Our numbers are not down quite so much this year compared to last year," said publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr.

Circulation of the Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow Jones & Co., decreased by 0.8 percent, to 2,070,498, said Amy Wolfcale, a Wall Street Journal spokeswoman.

Wolfcale attributed the decline to a 23 percent increase in price over the past three years and a change in distribution strategy as the Journal prepares for a scheduled September rollout of a weekend edition. The Journal, for example, has stopped supplying some public waiting rooms where people don't congregate on the weekends, Wolfcale said.

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