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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.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 May, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)

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William King

There are several reasons on the failure of Newspaper. But price and time are the main issues for it. If I want news now, about anything like the most hot topics in the recent past: Osama and Royal Wedding. I have to wait for the time when newspapers are published then pay and get the news. While on Electronic Media always tends to keep you informed every time for free. Then who will go for Newspaper, when every thing is available at one click, even now in your mobile too.

over 5 years ago

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Douglas Karr, President and CEO at DK New Media, LLC

It's also failing well beyond the ABC's numbers. The ABC has been enabling exaggerated counts for quite some time with some very loose calculations between free copies, paid copies and shared copies. While I was in the industry, we counted stolen single copy machine newspapers for readership, as well as counting every adult in a household as a reader.

Newspapers continue to strangle themselves by fighting new media and centralizing control and editorial functions. How does an editor in Virginia possibly filter and prioritize news stories for someone in Indiana? They can't.

The Daily is an interesting move as well. An iPad newspaper that's brought the inconsistency and untimeliness of newspaper delivery to a semi-mobile device. Just plain strange - news is news NOW, it's not news tomorrow!

over 5 years ago

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Laurent

Will the newspapers go the same digital path than the music industry? Maybe they should just sell articles instead of an entire newspaper, the same wat that songs have replaced albums.

over 5 years ago

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DCCTV

Social competitions are very interesting though, for many users entering comps is their primary reason for being online and once you start doing competitions there's a risk that you may lose some of your follower integrity. To paraphrase Seth Godin, it's better to have a smaller engaged community.

over 5 years ago

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