Sensitivity Grows On L.A. Times Circulation
A statement by Tribune Co. chairman Dennis FitzSimmons on Los Angeles Times circulation is stirring new concern, although the concern might be misplaced.
FitzSimmons told Editor and Publisher that a new figure out next month would show Times circulation down 5.5%.
But it was not clear whether this was a reference to a 5.6% decline, down to 902,000 daily, that was actually first reported last September.
Another 5.5% decline would really be bad news. Let's hope FitzSimmons was referring to the last figure and not actually the next one.
Under the Tribune, circulation losses at the Times have been more pronounced than any other large paper in the country. Some of it is blamed on the 'Do Not Call' lists that cut Times telemarketing to a shadow of what it had been in the past. Some of it is a conscious, and I think badly mistaken decision, to save money by pulling out of outlying areas and cut back the National Edition, which was never efficiently distributed. Some can be attributed to circulation declines affecting many newspapers as the Internet spreads and becomes more important. Some also is due to charging 50 cents for the daily paper on the newsstands instead of 25 cents. And some has to do with conservative antipathy to the liberal views of the paper. Thousands of conservatives have cancelled their subscriptions.
It should be noted that even the New York Times, which has built up a huge national edition, has had trouble building circulation, in very small increments. The NYT has been losing circulation in the New York area.
It could be that marketing through the Internet, charging something to read the paper online, might, in time, reverse the LAT circulation declines. This would especially be true, if the other major newspapers began also charging for reading online.
When Mark Willes became CEO of Times-Mirror, and the Times' problems really began, he had the expressed goal of doubling Times circulation to two million.
Later, he found out, as he once acknowledged to me, that simply keeping circulation up to the existing level was a struggle. Many people, he remarked ruefully, cancelled their subscriptions when they went on vacation, and then never resumed them. Some of the strategems Willes adopted to boost circulation, such as the deal with La Opinion, later came to be questioned as falsifying actual circulation.
One thing we do not know is whether the present editors of the Times, John Carroll and Dean Baquet, have remonstrated with the Tribune to put more effort into maintaining circulation.
The time has come now, though, to pay attention to this and spend the effort and money to rebuild circulation. Otherwise, the paper's future is not assured.