USA Today no longer America's largest paper. Is mass-market media dead?

USA Today, founded in 1982 by Gannett (GCI) CEO Al Neuharth as a radical experiment to create a national newspaper, may no longer be the largest paper in the U.S. based on circulation.

Industry trade magazine Editor & Publisher obtained information from Gannett management that says that "USA Today's circulation fell 17 percent to 1.88 million for the six months ending September 2009, a drop of about 390,000 copies." Gannett also indicated that because it had raised the subscription and newsstand price for the paper, its circulation revenue would be about the same as in the same period a year ago.


That would mean that The Wall Street Journal became the biggest paper in America for the six months ending in September, based on paid circulation.

In many ways, the news should not be a surprise. The entire publishing industry -- both newspapers and magazines -- is cutting unprofitable circulation. When advertising was robust, these money-losing subscribers were part of the reader base sold to advertisers. The advertising revenue made up for the red ink that they created.

Now that print advertising has collapsed, each subscriber and newsstand buyer has to be his own profit center. This is likely to cause a number of the country's largest magazines and newspapers to cut their circulations by 30 percent or more. Newsweek recently cut its circulation base by more than that, and so has Readers' Digest. The days of mass market publications are coming to an end.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.


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