U-T reports circulation gains, some dips, but...

Company has sold papers for a penny, which counts as paid circulation

According to data released this morning by the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly called the Audit Bureau of Circulations), the Union-Tribune's total average Sunday circulation for the six months ended March 31 rose to 409,796 from 364,454 in the same period a year ago. Monday-Friday total average circulation rose to 250,678 from 230,578. Those figures include branded print and digital editions, such as editions under a different name meant to reach those speaking an alternative language. However, in assessing circulation for the U-T, or any other newspaper, one factor is critical: A PAPER SOLD FOR A PENNY COUNTS AS PAID CIRCULATION. The U-T has been selling papers for a penny to churches and similar institutions, which then turn around and sell the paper to its members for $1 or so as a fundraising technique. So it is difficult to assess these circulation figures, or figures from other papers that sell papers for a penny each.

Total average circulation excluding branded editions reportedly rose to 310,214 from 291,054 on Sunday, but there was a slight decline Monday-Friday, to 214,351 from 217,580. Total consumer accounts reportedly rose by about 31,000 on Sunday but dropped by about 2,000 daily.

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Finally the U-T is selling the paper for its market value: a penny. They need to change the vending machines so they can accept a penny. An added bonus: it's sure cheaper than buying paper towels to clean windows!

dwbat: I have had several reports of churches and other institutions buying individual papers for a penny; members then pay the full price, and the institution gets a donation. Such a strategy may boost circulation, but it makes it difficult if not impossible for an ad buyer to measure valid circulation. But if you use penny U-Ts to clean windows, you may leave ink blots on your windows! Best, Don Bauder

Using newspaper to wipe down car windows is an old detailers' trick. It's supposed to leave no streaks.

jnojr: Maybe because I have been in the media business 50 years -- 53 years if you count PR and advertising -- it pains me to use a newspaper for such purposes. Best, Don Bauder

It would cause a little more pain maybe to use the U-T as emergency toilet paper. But again, it would be an appropriate usage.

dwbat: Hey, Manchester paid $110 million for that paper. That's a pretty expensive role of Charmin. Best, Don Bauder

"Finally the U-T is selling the paper for its market value: a penny" Uh, not so much. As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't "buy" it if THEY paid me!! LOL

SAN DIEGO 23RD IN AVERAGE CIRCULATION. The U-T is listed 23rd among the top 25 papers in average circulation. The metro area (the county) is 17th largest in the U.S. with a population of 3.18 million. There are apparent anomalies in these listings. For example, the Denver metro area is 2.6 million, 21st largest in the U.S., but the Denver Post is 9th in circulation. That is almost certainly because the Post sells throughout Colorado and other parts of the West, while the U-T is pretty much restricted to its metro area. The U-T is 18th in Sunday circulation, but is not in the top 25 for digital editions. Best, Don Bauder

Don, The big question here is how much of this circulation gain came from converting North County Times subscribers to UT subscribers. The NCT was history, as I recall, before March 31, and their subscribers were just switched to getting the North County version of the UT. Well, many told Dougie and Johnny they weren't interested in their paper, and now presumably don't get a newspaper at all. But that paper is gone as any sort of separate entity, and the overall number of subscribers in the county is, I'd bet, smaller than ever.

Visduh: The U-T bought the North County Times in September of 2012. Thus, it was outside today's report for the 26 weeks ended March 31. But in the comparable period of a year earlier, the North County Times numbers were not there. I was going to put that in and then didn't. I should have. Best, Don Bauder

Don, When I worked at the UT, The ABC did not count any sale toward paid circulation unless it was at least 50 percent of the full price. That was in the early 90's. I don't know if the ABC changed the price requirement to be counted toward paid circulation numbers. You may want to research it.


Gekko: Definitely the ABC changed its rules to count a paper sold for a penny as paid circulation. I wrote a column dealing with that around the time of the change. It was -- and remains -- a license to artificially boost circulation. The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly ABC) continues the rule. I checked before I wrote this blog item, and the rule is still in effect. The U-T has been selling papers for a penny or a nickel each to churches, charities, etc., which then sell the paper to members at a higher price as a fundraising device. This clouds any circulation figures, and potential advertisers should be screaming about it, and may well be. Also, the U-T discounts papers to those shrewd enough to talk the price down. This further clouds the data. What Manchester and Lynch should worry about is the modest circulation gains -- and in some cases declines -- following the purchase of the North County Times, which should have fattened circulation numbers. Best, Don Bauder

It would be better for everyone if they quit using ink, used softer paper, and sold it in four-pack rolls.

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