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Newspapers need help anywhere they can get it, and the Audit Bureau of Circulations is trying to help. Recently, it updated the rules it uses to calculate newspaper circulation.
One of the changes: free copies given to local schools and newspaper employees are now counted.
That should help, right? Apparently, it's not that easy. Despite the Audit Bureau of Circulations' good intentions, newspaper circulation in the U.S. continues to decline.
In the most recent quarter, the first time the Bureau's changes went into effect, 18 of the 25 largest newspapers circulated fewer copies. Amongst those which did increase circulation, gains were modest. USA Today, for instance, grew circulation by 2,500 copies. Not much when circulation is above 1.8m.
Per the Bureau's rules, circulation figures already include digital sales, so the message is quite clear: selling consumers on the value of newspapers is a difficult task. Even with a growing number of pay walls being erected, consumers invariably seem reluctant to open their wallets.
A big part of that is pricing. At the New York Times, for instance, a subscription will set you back as much as $35 per month. At a time when 80% of consumers are unwilling to pay anything for the news, and a handful say they're willing to pay no more than $20 each month, that doesn't seem like a recipe for success.
But perhaps even bigger than pricing is access. It's a multichannel world, but many newspapers seem incapable of understanding that silos which segment subscribers by channel.
Indeed, access to the New York Times website only costs $15 every four weeks if you're happy reading via the web and a mobile device. Own an iPad too? Web and iPad access will set you back $20/month. Want to access nytimes.com anywhere you want? Get ready to shell out $455/year.
The combination of unrealistic pricing and channel-based limitations explains why most newspapers in the U.S. are finding it difficult to meaningfully boost their circulation numbers even with the help of the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But there is hope.
If the deal TIME just struck with Apple, which allows TIME to give its print subscribers access to iPad editions of its magazines without charging extra, is any indication, traditional publishers may finally be realizing that they need to find a way to offer 'one subscription, every channel and platform' if they want to survive and thrive.