The latest big-city circulation figures are out, and the Plain Dealer's decline looks dire.
Its circulation has fallen to 291,630, down from 330,280 a year ago — an 11.7% drop. That's even faster than the average newspaper's scary-enough decline of 7%.
In my January 2007 article, "The New Dealer," I wrote: "Many more ad dollars are leaving the paper than readers. Unlike people in Web-savvier cities, we’re not abandoning the newspaper for online news." Not so today.
I can see a few plausible explanations for the steep decline.
1) Perhaps the Plain Dealer's readers are just going to cleveland.com. Editor Susan Goldberg told an audience of Cleveland State students this February that the web site's readership has doubled since 2004. As of late 2007, cleveland.com had a readership of about 1.2 million unique users a month, up from about 1 million a year earlier.
2) Maybe people are canceling subscriptions to save money during the recession.
3) Some newspapers these days are deliberately stopping circulation in areas far away from their home city and expensive to deliver to.
4) Perhaps, as the paper gets smaller, a vicious cycle kicks in: people cancel, thinking they're not getting their money's worth anymore.
We'll see if the Plain Dealer covers its own circulation decline in tomorrow's paper. They've been making a point of commenting on news about themselves lately, instead of leaving it to others. For now, cleveland.com just has a wire-service story about the new numbers.