America’s top 25 largest newspapers have lost 20% of their weekday print circulation since the Covid-19 crisis began, a Press Gazette analysis of Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) data shows.
Newspaper circulations have been in decline for years. But our research suggests that the pandemic significantly increased the rate of decline.
In the first quarter of 2019, the 25 newspapers had a combined circulation of 4.7m. A year later, this total figure had fallen by 11% to 4.2m. The latest figures for these titles show a combined circulation of 3.4m, down 20% in a year.
America’s largest newspaper brands have switched much of their focus to building up digital subscription businesses in recent years – a trend that has become more pronounced over the past 18 months. But print remains an important revenue stream for the industry, both for circulation and advertising income.
America’s biggest three newspapers – the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and USA Today – together lost more than 500,000 of print circulation between the first quarter of 2020 and the latest reported period, which covers the six months to March 2021.
The graph below illustrates how USA Today, in particular, has suffered in print since early 2020.
USA Today was the worst-performing top-25 newspaper during this period, having lost 303,000, or 62%, of its circulation since March 2020.
As previously reported by Press Gazette, USA Today was particularly badly hit by lost sales to hotels, which would provide free copies of the newspaper to their guests.
USA Today, owned by regional press giant Gannett, launched a paywall last month and is seeking to build its digital revenues as print sales decline.
The Wall Street Journal remains America’s largest newspaper by some distance, with an average weekday circulation of nearly 800,000 between October 2020 and March 2021. But it has lost 208,000 (21%) of its print circulation since the first quarter of 2020. Like USA Today, the Journal’s circulation has been damaged significantly by lost hotel sales.
The New York Times has performed better than the Journal and USA Today, which it has overtaken to become America’s second largest newspaper in print. Since March 2020, its average weekday circulation has fallen by 48,000, or 12%, to 363,000.
Outside of the top three US newspapers, the worst-performing titles since March 2020 have been the New York Daily News (down 29,000, or 30%), Arizona Republic (down 20,000, or 20%), and the Chicago Sun-Times (down 13,000 copies, or 18%).
Those that have performed best include the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (down 9,000, or 7%), New York Post (down 13,000 copies, or 8%), and the Boston Globe (down 7,000, or 8%).
The Tampa Bay Times’ average circulation rose slightly between March 2020 and March 2021, but this is because it switched from a daily to a Sunday and Wednesday title in April last year. The average figure shown is for its Wednesday newspaper.
Long Island’s Newsday is down only 5% in the table, but this is because its latest AAM certificate is for the six months to September 2020.
A note about the workings...
Not all US newspapers today report their circulations to the AAM, so there may be some missing from our top 25 list (if you are reading this and believe you know of a title that should be included, please email firstname.lastname@example.org).
The circulations reported are Monday-Friday averages (where possible) of newspaper titles. Affiliated titles are not included in our circulation figures.
Until March 2020, newspapers reported average quarterly circulations. Now they report averages over six-month periods, hence the latest certificates are for October 2020-March 2021.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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