The Alliance for Audited Media recently released its look at U.S. and Canadian newspaper circulation figures for the first half of 2014 and its annual newspaper snapshot had some positive takeaways for those in the digital news industry. Neal Lulofs, AAM's executive vice president, marketing and strategy, says the report shows a continuing transition to a media cross channel environment in terms of how newspapers are publishing content and engaging with readers.
"Digital is still a healthy part of overall [growth], but we are seeing it reflected in both tablet and website visits, as well as just print subscriptions," he says. "It's not always readily evident because some studies show declining print numbers and don't readily recognize that subscriptions today are often bundled, so you're getting print and digital access with your rate and people are doing a lot of reading on the web or phone."
In the report, USA Today remains on top with an average circulation of 3,255,157 (thanks to its ability to count visits to its free app), while the Wall Street Journal (2,294,093) and New York Times (2,149,012) round out the top three.
Nikolay Malyarov, chief content officer for PressReader, the a provider of multi-channel newspaper and magazine content distribution solutions, says the AAM report validates the current trend in increasing digital edition circulation and the growing digital readership from both branded and non-branded solutions. "Now more than ever, it's incumbent upon publishers to find ways to reach these people, digitize their brand, and monetize their content across all platforms and channels," he says. "This industry is at the same crossroads once facing the movie and music business. These numbers represent the big shift in the way people are consuming news and their expectations about access to content. Readers are looking to news aggregators to access multiple sources in one place, and they increasingly want to read the news on mobile devices."
Uyen Tieu, co-founder and chief revenue officer for Rumble, a smart mobile platform publisher headquartered in New York, says the most telling data to come from the report is that most newspapers saw a decrease in circulation, and those that did see a gain did so by using non-paid methods. For example, USA Today created its Local USA Today section and distributed it to their sister local papers (without the customers paying additional for that new circulation), and the Orange County Press saw an increase due to branded editions (e.g. printing out more versions of their newspapers under different headings).
"The only increase that we saw that explicitly said the increase was due to paid efforts was the New York Times with digital subscriptions," Tieu says. "It has been a digital leader within the publishing community, but as the leaked innovation report revealed, it was and still is an extremely difficult process to make the cultural shift to steer the paper to a more digitally minded organization."
The digital news industry should take comfort in the numbers because it shows that there are still a lot of people that enjoy traditional news.
"However, knowing that people enjoy traditional news in print shouldn't mean that e-replicas are the answer; publishers need to figure out how their digital news subscriptions should cater to the different nature of what people expect and want on their mobile devices and desktop screens," Tieu says. "This doesn't have to mean super interactive expensive digital reporting, but rather taking advantage of the capabilities to tag and track users behaviors to know exactly what to serve to them in the digital space."
According to Lulofs, the AAM board may change how it counts digital circulation in the future. Currently, a reader counts as a circulation unit as long as he or she accesses an app or paywalled website a minimum of once per month. In a new model, the reader would count only for the days he or she accesses it, similar to how print circulation is calculated. This could result in an apparent drop in numbers by the next report, but that is all speculative at this time.
AAM totals include data for more than 600 newspapers, including digital editions, such as those on tablets or restricted websites, as well as branded editions, which includes regional editions or those tailored for commuters.
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