How shifting newspaper circ numbers affect PR pros

Print continues its death spiral as digital accelerates; so sayeth the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Here are the implications for the public relations industry.

Fewer people are reading actual newspapers, but the dwindling numbers continue to be offset by the growing market of digital subscribers, according to figures released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Average weekday circulation at the U.S.’s largest daily newspapers stayed flat during the last six months, compared with the same period in 2011. Sunday circulation showed a minute bump of 0.6 percent in the latest period.

Numbers would be dismal if the Audit Bureau hadn’t decided in 2010, under pressure from publishers, to include digital subscribers in its newspaper circulation numbers. During the latest period, digital editions accounted for about 15 percent of overall U.S. circulation, up from 10 percent in the year-earlier period.

No newspaper benefited more from the new rules than The New York Times. Circulation at the Times grew 40 percent from a year ago. More than half of the Times‘ 1.6 million circulation was for digital editions, including subscriptions for full access to its website and mobile apps.

The story behind the numbers is that paywalls aren’t just a passing fad, but a possible way to save news outlets that continue to buy ink by the barrel. Although it’s still unclear whether the digital subscribers will rescue the industry. The ABC numbers aren’t quite as good as in the last report, when weekday circulation increased 0.7 percent and Sunday circulation jumped 5 percent.

For the PR world, the shift has some implications, including:

• Clients must be convinced that coverage in digital editions is just as good as, if not better than, that in print editions.

• Newspapers no longer have a monopoly on the news, and their online sites even the playing field with all online-only news outlets.

• Digital-only news sites will continue to offer us more opportunities because they are not saddled with paper and delivery costs.

• Expect more paywalls and intrusive banner ads as newspapers seek to capture digital dollars.

• You cut costs by getting rid of newspaper clipping services.

Gil Rudawsky heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at

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