(Photo: Evan Eile, USA TODAY)
The agency that tallies newspaper circulation figures used by advertisers has changed its methodology to account for the increasingly diverse array of digital distribution channels, making USA TODAY once again the national leader in total circulation.
USA TODAY's five-weekday average circulation totaled 2.88 million for the six-month period ending September, up from 1.71 million a year ago, according to the latest circulation report released Thursday by the Alliance for Audited Media.
The big jump was largely attributable to 1.48 million counted in the paper's "digital non-replica" category, which primarily refers to mobile and tablet apps. USA TODAY's apps and their content are free. "Newspapers can count free digital editions if they are accessed (by users) once every 30 days," AAM spokeswoman Susan Kantor says.
"As news consumption habits continue to change, we remain focused on giving our on-the-go audience the compelling content they desire. Whether they choose to connect with us via print, desktop or mobile, our rising audience numbers prove that we're engaging more consumers every day," said Larry Kramer, president and publisher of USA TODAY.
Acknowledging the complexity in counting circulation in the digital age, AAM stopped ranking newspapers by the number of total subscribers, an industry horse race statistic used for bragging rights in the past.
AAM was also moved to stop comparing newspapers because it no longer requires daily newspapers with circulation above 50,000 to provide a five-day-average figure, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. The report contains data for 630 U.S. newspapers, with about 300 reporting a Monday-Friday average.
"The simple truth is that's not how most newspaper advertising is bought and sold," wrote AAM executive vice president Neal Lulofs in the agency's blog Thursday. "Today's environment is sophisticated and complex."
Publishers have increasingly moved distribution to tablets and smartphones, where content may be free or packaged as part of the home delivery subscription price. Hundreds of U.S. newspapers now charge for reading articles on their websites, while others still avoid the "paywall" even if they continue to gain revenue from street sales and home delivery.
"Recognizing these trends, the AAM board agreed that summarizing all of these channels into a single five-day-average figure may not best represent a newspaper's true reach in a way that is meaningful to advertisers," Lulofs wrote.
Here are the circulation figures of the four other newspapers that were ranked the top five in AAM's last report in March.
• The Wall Street Journal's five-day average circulation fell to 2.27 million from 2.29 million a year ago. The paper, which surpassed USA TODAY as the nation's top newspaper in circulation in 2009, prints a general weekend edition but no Sunday paper.
• The New York Times' five-day average circulation rose to 1.89 million from 1.61 million a year ago. Its Sunday edition had 2.39 million readers, up from 2.1 million a year ago.
• The Los Angeles Times' five-day average circulation climbed to 671,797 from 641,370 a year ago. The Sunday edition reported 963,751 in circulation, up from 962,194.
• New York Daily News' five-day average circulation fell to 467,110 from 535,875 a year ago. Its Sunday edition fell to 587,063 from 655,647.
Staff Report, USA TODAY