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Since the 19th century, publications have been required to reveal their ownership in a United States Postal Service report. Since 1960, that report has had to include information about circulation, too.

Monday (Oct. 7), the Union-Tribune printed its postal service report...in small type. The results may shock some readers and advertisers. Average seven-day paid circulation for the year through Sept. 15, 2013 was only 189,822. Circulation on the filing day (Sunday, Sept. 15) was 251,318.

This report represented a stark disparity from the numbers for the six months ended March 31 released by the Alliance for Audited Media earlier this year. That report showed Monday-Friday circulation was 250,678. Sunday circulation was 409,796. I tried to contact four U-T executives, explaining that while the postal service and Alliance numbers were not strictly apples to apples, or pristinely comparable, the disparity was startling.

About half an hour ago, I received an explanation from the U-T's George Bonaros. He said of the heftier Alliance report, "This statement includes total paid print circulation, digital copies, and branded editions that make up the U-T's 'Total Average Circulation' per [Alliance] guidelines." Bonaros says that the March 31 Alliance report Monday-Friday paid print circulation was 190,892 and Sunday 287,026. He claims these numbers are comparable to the postal service report, but I would say they reveal significant deterioration since March 31.

The Alliance, formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations, has in recent years loosened its standards so much that journalists such as myself complain that the figures are questionable. (For example, the Alliance counts a paper sold for a penny as paid circulation. The U-T separately reported in the postal service account that it distributed 7,055 daily and 10,156 Sunday, Sept. 15 editions that were free or sold for a nominal amount.)

The lesson is clear: in assessing the U-T's circulation, read the fine print -- as reported to the U.S. Postal Service.

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Comments

enzo Oct. 8, 2013 @ 7:54 p.m.

Those circulation numbers are pathetic. Manchester bought an overpriced white elephant.

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Don Bauder Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:05 p.m.

enzo: I think the decline of the print edition from early this year to the present appears to be pretty severe. Print editions everywhere are going down, particularly for metro dailies. Now the papers have to figure out how to make money with the online editions.

A word about Manchester. When he bought the paper, he had other objectives: 1. Propagandizing about issues that he intends to make money on and 2. Possible real estate development. Still, I think he overpaid, if he actually paid $110 million. Best, Don Bauder

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theopiner Oct. 8, 2013 @ 8:58 p.m.

Manchester never wanted a newspaper. He wanted a bully pulpit.

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Don Bauder Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:06 p.m.

theopiner: As above, propaganda was one of his objectives. Trouble is, the propaganda has been so clumsy and overt that the paper has lost credibility. Best, Don Bauder

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Matt101 Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:16 p.m.

That is a severe decline in circulation; are other large papers experiencing the same? How do the U-T numbers compare to percentage declines over the same period at, say, LA Times or OC Register?

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Don Bauder Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:27 p.m.

Matt101: I don't know the answer to that one, except in general terms. As I said, metro daily print editions are in a severe decline -- have been for years. And newspapers' online editions, while growing fast, have not been very profitable.

To get the information you seek, one would have to get the U.S. Postal Service records for the LA Times and OC Register (they may have printed this week) and compare them with the Alliance numbers of March 31, as I did with the U-T. I don't know that I have time to do that right now. Anybody want to take a crack at it? Best, Don Bauder

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Javajoe25 Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:25 p.m.

Don, Those numbers are still bogus. Every print subscriber also receives a digital copy, so when they count both, they are counting the same subscribers twice.

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Don Bauder Oct. 8, 2013 @ 9:31 p.m.

JavaJoe25: Digital readership can be measured accurately by counting clicks, as I understand it. This information can be useful to advertisers. Overall, the methodology may be double-counting, but not necessarily for the specific reach of each story or ad. With print editions, you can't tell what readers have read what stories or ads unless you do surveys afterward. Best, Don Bauder

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Ponzi Oct. 8, 2013 @ 10:49 p.m.

circling the drain

for clicks, Manchester's tech team utilizes bots... they fake the click-through numbers. His secret weapon has now been revealed.

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Don Bauder Oct. 9, 2013 @ 7:04 a.m.

Ponzi: That is something I don't know about. I would appreciate your giving us more information on this technique, and if it is used at the U-T.

All in all, these postal numbers show a startling decline of the U-T print product. According to the U-T, the 189,822 average 7-day paid circulation figure would include the Sunday paper. That represents an extremely deep dip for the print edition. Best, Don Bauder

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jmiyazawa Oct. 9, 2013 @ 8:21 a.m.

The quality of this paper has sunk immeasurably since I moved here in 2006 (and it wasn't great to begin with.) I dropped my subscription when it became clear Doug Manchester fancied himself a Rupert Murdouch doppelganger and the paper became an aggregation of wire reports and full page exterminator and solar energy ads.

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Don Bauder Oct. 9, 2013 @ 8:54 a.m.

jmiyazawa: There is no question that the quality of the print editorial product has declined sharply since 2006. The U-T now wants to make its money on the online product. It remains to be seen whether this will work. Best, Don Bauder

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Visduh Oct. 9, 2013 @ 4:55 p.m.

The paper has been in decline for well more than a decade. It is a tiny product by the standards of just a few years ago, with little content that is locally generated. Look at the stories and the bulk of them are AP, NYT, or WSJ. The local "news" coverage is generally slanted by the editorial desires of the boys upstairs, meaning Dougie and Johnnie. I recently saw the daily paper in Santa Barbara, and to my eye it looked every bit as "big city" as the Mill, maybe more so, in a city and county with a fraction of the population of San Diego city and county.

Wasn't Lynch claiming that the circulation declines had bottomed out and that the paper was profitable just a few months ago?

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Don Bauder Oct. 9, 2013 @ 7:54 p.m.

Visduh: I don't know that Lynch said that the circulation declines had bottomed out. Probably they had right after the purchase of the North County Times. The U-T should have picked up 80,000 or so circulation with that purchase, but the Alliance numbers showed that it did not. There was lots of leakage -- people not continuing with the U-T. But in some categories, circulation did rise moderately.

Now, look at these latest postal service numbers for the print edition; over the last year, an average190,000 a day including Sundays. That is just plain bad.

The U-T has to pick up its online business; probably it has (most metro dailies have), but not dramatically. Yes, the paper has said it is profitable. But under accounting rules today, somebody with a sharp pencil can make any company profitable -- or in the case of a pro sports team lobbying for a government handout, unprofitable. The U-T has laid off a lot of people -- that may have made it somewhat profitable. Best, Don Bauder

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rehftmann Oct. 9, 2013 @ 4:59 p.m.

Interpreting the web traffic analytics to identify the various categories of views of any site's pages is a combination of black magic and dubious science. It would be nearly impossible to determine given the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and other services available to super-boost standing in search results lists. On the other hand, the traditional dependence of advertisers on verified circulation figures from ABC (Audited Bureau of Circulation, now AAM, Alliance of Audited Media) was as impeccable as Standard & Poor or Moody's truths, from God's lips. So who'd ever guess they all had feet of clay. It makes advertisers wonder if they're losing both halves of their buy, to inflate to old adage. But $110 million and operating losses of a few million a year are a bargain compared to the cost of buying an election retail, especially if you don't have real competition (with all due respect to Reader, Freep's, etc, when weighed by circulation rather than scales of truth and justice). You can't even get your name on a stadium for much less than that, although it's always worth trying. (Jack Murphy didn't have to, but Jacobs did and failed to get his Qualcomm changed to hisSnapdragon promo'. Money talks.) How much is being able to overthrow a major city mayor worth? Only UT and Q know.

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Don Bauder Oct. 9, 2013 @ 8:02 p.m.

rehftmann: The U-T won't know whether it was worth it to overthrow a mayor until it knows who the successor is, and it is doing its best to get its candidate (Faulconer) in. Faulconer is a downtown establishment toady -- just what the U-T wants.

It is unfortunate that services such as search engine optimization are available to rig the electronics numbers. I don't know if the U-T is utilizing such tricks. If I were an advertiser, I would want to know. Best, Don Bauder

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