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U-T print circulation continues downward spiral

Paper has lost over 20,000 readers annually for several years

The average daily print circulation of the Union-Tribune took another major fall this year. According to the annual numbers that publications must file every year with the U.S. Postal Service, the U-T's average daily paid circulation for the year ended October 1, 2017, was 121,321; this was down sharply from last year's 144,085, 2015's 164,532, and 2013's 189,822.

The U-T printed the numbers today (October 9). Newspapers also report circulation of the previous day, which in every case is Sunday. On Sundays, the U-T is also taking a hit. For Sundays through October 1, average circulation was 180,154; last year's number was 196,049 and the previous year's was 221,257. In 2013, the number was 251,318.

Since 1960, publications have been required to report circulation data to the postal service in October. There are a number of reasons for the U-T's stark declines. The paper is now printed in Los Angeles and shipped to San Diego. This leads to news delays and delivery woes. Some say the paper's quality has declined, which would be expected as the news staff has been pared sharply.

The metro area in San Diego County, which is the same as the county, has a population of 3.2 million.

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The average daily print circulation of the Union-Tribune took another major fall this year. According to the annual numbers that publications must file every year with the U.S. Postal Service, the U-T's average daily paid circulation for the year ended October 1, 2017, was 121,321; this was down sharply from last year's 144,085, 2015's 164,532, and 2013's 189,822.

The U-T printed the numbers today (October 9). Newspapers also report circulation of the previous day, which in every case is Sunday. On Sundays, the U-T is also taking a hit. For Sundays through October 1, average circulation was 180,154; last year's number was 196,049 and the previous year's was 221,257. In 2013, the number was 251,318.

Since 1960, publications have been required to report circulation data to the postal service in October. There are a number of reasons for the U-T's stark declines. The paper is now printed in Los Angeles and shipped to San Diego. This leads to news delays and delivery woes. Some say the paper's quality has declined, which would be expected as the news staff has been pared sharply.

The metro area in San Diego County, which is the same as the county, has a population of 3.2 million.

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Comments
32

Your headline writer is running out of ideas, just as fast as the UT is losing subscribers. Just look at the previous story titles. Both are sad situations. Hopefully, for their sake, the headline writer isn’t as moribund as the UT.

Oct. 9, 2017

JustWondering: I can't blame a headline writer. I definitely wrote the top headline on today's item and wrote some of the other headlines, too. So I should get most of the blame. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2017

MY MAGNIFYING GLASS FAILED ME, AND BOOSTED THE U-T'S RESULTS. It was very difficult reading the U-T's statement to the post office today. Thus, I made an error which was in the U-T's favor. The average Sunday circulation for 2017 is actually 160,154, rather than 180,154, as I stated in the original above. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2017

So circulation was even worse than you wrote. If only the UT corrected their errors as expeditiously as you.

Oct. 9, 2017

JustWondering: I doubt the U-T or many other papers would quickly correct an error that made them look better than the actual figures did. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2017

Don, didn't you work for the U-T at one time?

Oct. 9, 2017

Steve Horvath:Yes -- for 30 years. I was financial editor and financial columnist of the Union, then of the Union-Tribune after the merger in the early 1990s. For the last several years I was senior columnist of the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 10, 2017

How do you like them apples Don. I'll always remember you as the guy from the U-T, but it's been so long some only know you as a Reader reporter!

Oct. 13, 2017

Tony de Garate: I retired from the U-T in 2003 at age 67. I immediately began writing for the Reader and have done so for 14 years. If you do the math, you can see I am no spring chicken. However, if you do other math, you can see I have covered San Diego for 44 years. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 13, 2017

Yes, I remember your mug shot that accompanied your financial column when I was a kid. And I do seem to remember when you branched off as a columnist. For some reason I remember your Bill Ballance profile. At the time I assumed they assigned you because I figured he wouldn't talk to anyone else.

I also remember you dabbled in talk radio a bit. The one and only time I've ever spoken to you was when you were a guest on Bill Holland's show. Everyone wanted to know your stock tips and such but I asked you about subsidies to sports franchises. You were one of the few to express doubts about the Chargers ticket guarantee and the Padres land grab, and I really admired that. It's taken a few years, but it looks like the convention wisdom has finally come around to your point of view. May you still doing this 44 years from now.

Oct. 14, 2017

Tony de Garate: Yes, I was on the Bill Balance show a lot. Billo was quite a talent. The words just flowed out of his mouth. Most of the calls he got were about sex, and he gave titillating responses, but I honestly believe he was personally more interested in the dry financial stuff I would talk about. He was also a Civil War buff with a house full of books on that war.

I also appeared on Bill Holland's show with some regularity, sometimes pinch-hitting for him, sometimes as a guest. Bill really knew his stuff.

As to the local sports teams: from the beginning I opposed the Chargers' stadium ripoff of the mid-1990s, and also opposed the Padres/Moores land grab. Later, I strongly opposed any public subsidy going to the Chargers. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 15, 2017

The problem with newspapers is that in the digital age you get yesterdays news today.

Oct. 10, 2017

And today's breaking news tomorrow.

Oct. 10, 2017

Ponzi: That's the big problem…too late with too little. Best, Don

Oct. 10, 2017

May I say I don't see that as a problem. I'd still rather wait till the paper hits my porch (sorry -- driveway or sidewalk, now that it's a guy in a car instead of a kid on a bike). I feel like I'm more likely to get a better summary with the facts in perspective, without the pressure of less-scrutinized, overhyped details that characterize the 24-news cycle outlets.

Oct. 13, 2017

Tony de Garate: You are ahead of the curve. The only way daily newspapers will survive is to have interpretive, in-depth reporting…expanding on the headlines. You get quick news the night before on the internet or TV, but you should get the story behind the headlines the next morning. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 13, 2017

AlexClarke: Yes, that is a huge problem for metro dailies. The news is old and sometimes out of date by the time the newspaper arrives in the morning. Papers have tried competing by running their own websites with up-to-the-minute news. But few have made that profitable. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 10, 2017

This continuing precipitous drop in circulation of the rag means it is steadily less relevant in the county. When I was buying ad circulation, if a paper didn't deliver close to half of the households in its market, it was looked at as weak. Some cities had papers that reached as high as 80% of households. Sunday coverage of only 160K is pathetic, meaning that out of a population of 3.3 million folks, only a small minority of them ever see a copy.

The circulation is so low that tronc could on any day announce that it is just going to stop the print version, and go fully on-line. I don't expect that soon, but how many of us, say ten years ago, would have predicted this rapid decline in newspaper circulation? I sure didn't see it coming so fast.

In the case of the U-T, all the changes of ownership and the changes in direction that go along with that have weakened it. From month to month you can't rely on anything staying the same in the product that lands in your driveway. Some time back it claimed that at least a million readers saw a copy at least once a week. That was nothing much to brag about, and now they don't even claim that.

Oct. 10, 2017

Visduh: You are right. Years before the internet, I made myself very unpopular with the paper's top management by pointing out that the market share compared poorly with that of other metro dailies. Now the U-T reaches a small percentage of households in the county. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 10, 2017

On Sundays, in my neighborhood, major roadway intersections have one or two people hawking papers for $1. Why bother subscribing? Just wondering are these "corner retail sales" counted as part of the subscription numbers?

Oct. 10, 2017

JustWondering: They may have been working for a non-profit, such as a church or Boy Scout troop. A newspaper sold for a penny counts as paid circulation. So one of the gimmicks the U-T has done in recent years (and I assume still does) is sell a bundle of Sunday papers to a church for an extremely low price-- say, a penny each. Then the charit sells it to its members (or non-members) for the full price. The charity pockets the difference and the newspaper can report higher circulation. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 10, 2017

Some of those corner hawkers are taking the newspapers from a vending box (pay for one, get twenty). Nice profit on those sales for the homeless.

The circulation figures should only include paid subscriptions, but many publishers will also give a number for estimated sharing of each issue. Papers distributed to libraries, for instance may be shared by many people. Families and businesses who subscribe may be assumed to be sharing.

So it's hard to compare readership of the Reader and the U-T, but I suspect they are comparable. Is there any data, Don?

Oct. 10, 2017

swell: Oh yes, even as far back as when I was there (1973-2003), the U-T jacked up circulation artificially by using a multiplier, assuming that one copy was passed around among several people.

As for the thefts from vending boxes, I was not aware of that stunt. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 10, 2017

Don, do you know if schools still get the newspaper? I know that if a subscriber went on vacation they could donate their paper to a local school. Do schools, or ore importantly, their teachers, even bother with print news? Seems these days they would be exploring news stories on a tablet.

Oct. 10, 2017

For a time up until about eight or nine years ago, the North County Times provided the high schools in the area with many bundles of papers on a daily basis. The U-T may have done similar things for some of the schools farther south in the county. But that all seemed to stop when circulation and ad revenue for the papers began itheir inexorable decline. That thing about "donating" your paper was really not what it seemed. It was just a way to keep the revenue stream up while you were not getting your copy. I'm not on campuses very often nowadays, but in more recent years I never saw any use of the newspaper in the classroom.

Oct. 11, 2017

Visduh: When the U-T began going south in a hurry, it gave up many things that didn't have an immediate effect on the bottom line. It's possible that when the U-T bought the North County Times, it gave up that practice. But I cannot say that definitively. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 11, 2017

Ponzi: When I was there, the U-T put a lot of emphasis on reaching schools. I remember giving speeches to groups of teachers, and also talking to third graders at one school. I don't know if education is still emphasized. And I don't know about the free newspapers. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 11, 2017

I live in a small community of 30 homes. In the not all that distant past at least three quarters of the neighborhood got the news paper. Now only one person gets the paper and only the Sunday edition.

Oct. 11, 2017

AlexClarke: I get told similar stories by many bloggers. The data tell the tale. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 11, 2017

Christopher O. Carmichael: It like that "tronced up." Congrats. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 11, 2017

I suppose I am a statistic. I get the Sunday edition and have for about two years. They are probably counting me as a subscriber. The odd thing is that I am not a subscriber. I never asked for the paper, never paid for it, but here it is every Sunday. I've become friendly with the oriental delivery woman with a big 5AM "Good morning!". Maybe she just delivers because she likes me? How many other counted 'subscribers' are getting their news gratis?

Even now, I like the paper. There is some good reporting. There are local news items you won't find elsewhere. There are some good people. Unlike many, I have no interest in sports, entertainment, comics or advertising. Still there is stuff I want- business, local, regional, and (in my dotage) I scan the obits just to be sure I'm not listed. I would be very sorry to see it die.

Oct. 11, 2017

swell: As I have been saying for several years here, a subscriber should call up and cancel. He or she will be offered a subscription at a lower price. Turn down the offers until there is one that is really cheap. Economically, it's more important for the U-T to boost circulation than it is to gather money from subscriptions.

I don't know why you are getting it free. Yes, you are probably counted as a subscriber. I agree that there is some good reporting in the U-T. Don't bother to scan the obits to ascertain if you are listed. You or your survivors would have to have paid for that obit. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 11, 2017

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