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Union-Tribune Circulation Continues To Plummet As Skepticism About Sales of Metro Dailies Increases

For August of this year, the Union-Tribune's daily circulation plunged to 266,765 from 283,437 in August of 2007, according to internal numbers given to employees. Sunday circulation declined to 332,342 in August of 2008 from 355,598 a year earlier. In August of 2004, daily circulation was 329,453 and Sunday 422,037. That is a huge fall. Online performance was mixed from 2007 to 2008. David T. Clark of Deutsche Bank says, "The next 18 months may be 'make or break' for the newspapers," stating that all signs point to weak retail sales and lean advertising budgets for the rest of 2008 and much of 2009. Media columnist Jon Fine of Business Week says that "Family owners are throwing up their hands, hanging out For Sale signs on major newspapers amidst the worst selling environment in, perhaps, ever." (Copley put itself up for sale in late July.)

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For August of this year, the Union-Tribune's daily circulation plunged to 266,765 from 283,437 in August of 2007, according to internal numbers given to employees. Sunday circulation declined to 332,342 in August of 2008 from 355,598 a year earlier. In August of 2004, daily circulation was 329,453 and Sunday 422,037. That is a huge fall. Online performance was mixed from 2007 to 2008. David T. Clark of Deutsche Bank says, "The next 18 months may be 'make or break' for the newspapers," stating that all signs point to weak retail sales and lean advertising budgets for the rest of 2008 and much of 2009. Media columnist Jon Fine of Business Week says that "Family owners are throwing up their hands, hanging out For Sale signs on major newspapers amidst the worst selling environment in, perhaps, ever." (Copley put itself up for sale in late July.)

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Comments
34

Two words;

FIRE SALE

Oct. 5, 2008

Response to Comment #1

Excellent choice sir:

Would you like to have the "Cedar Fire Sale" or the ever-popular "Witchcreek Fire Sale"?

Oct. 5, 2008

Choices....choices...choices.....Hmmmm.

Oct. 5, 2008

Response to post #1: You may be right. It isn't even an extreme buyers' market. There is almost no market for metro dailies. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 5, 2008

Response to post #2: Remember, if the price gets low enough, somebody will buy it, unless cash flow is deeply negative and the assets aren't worth much. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 5, 2008

Response to post #3: Have you been asked to be a broker on the deal, Johnny? Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 5, 2008

Response to post #7: Fumber, the U-T is proud to have you as a loyal reader. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

The State of California estimates that San Diego County's population is 3,146,274. If the UT's daily readership is 266,765, that means that 0.08 of the population is looking at the paper. Even if the same paper is read by two people, that is only 0.16.

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #8: The U-T reaches a bit over 8 percent of persons, around 23 percent of households in the county. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

Let's say that it takes a while to find a buyer: why doesn't Gene Bell at least try to slow the decline by firing the top editorial management and taking the paper in a new direction? Does he prefer to go down on a sinking ship? Surely there must be some bright talent in the US who could come into the UT with carte blanche and try to turn it around.

Oct. 6, 2008

Let's say that it takes a while to find a buyer: why doesn't Gene Bell at least try to slow the decline by firing the top editorial management and taking the paper in a new direction? ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Because that makes too much sense for a person with an IQ of 30. Over 30 IQ and they try it. . . . . . Does he prefer to go down on a sinking ship? +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In one word-YES.

Oct. 6, 2008

How the mighty have fallen. Very recently owning one of those big city dailies was akin to having a license to print money. Rich and able to promote anything your heart desired. The local readers kept reading and kept patronizing the retailers who advertised. In the past two decades most cities have not had any daily newspaper competition. The big one dominated, the smaller ones gave up, and the big one had the whole thing to itself.

One recent retail arrival in San Diego that "should have" advertised heavily in the U-T is Bloomingdales. They will rarely buy a full page. Nordy's used to make some use of the U-T, but I've not seen much in the past couple years. "Needless Markup"? Hardly ever.

And so it circles the drain. Ad revenue shrinks, the paper contracts in size and coverage and quality(?), thus readership declines. Advertisers see a lack of ad response and sales, they cut back or eliminate the paper as an ad medium, ad revenue dries up, the paper is a ghost of its former self, and so it goes.

Copley still has fumber though. Good for them.

Oct. 6, 2008

Copley still has fumber though. Good for them.

By Visduh

LOL...... If we're lucky the UT will take Fumbler down the toilet with them.

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #11: Gene Bell really doesn't have the power to make a major change in the editorial product, although he has always sought such authority. Karin Winner goes to lunch regularly with David Copley. Bell does not. One time, according to rumor, Bell asked to go with Karin and David to lunch, and was turned down. Bell runs the commercial side of the business and should not be sticking his nose in the editorial side -- despite the obvious mismanagement there. The impetus for the necessary change in editorial thrust must come from either David or Hal Fuson, COO. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #12: Bell doesn't have the background to understand the editorial side. He came up through production, and while he has been a publisher, he doesn't have the vision -- at least, that was always my impression. Frankly, he is a lightweight. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #13: It appears to be a death spiral. You described it very well. You must know the business. One thing can be said, though: some other metro dailies are pursuing the same suicidal policies. Copley is not alone. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #14: The big question: with the U-T's share of the individual market at 8 percent, and share of households at 23 percent, are there more or fewer fumbers who are keeping their subscriptions? Who is reading it? The fumbers of this world or the Visduhs? Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 6, 2008

Don you seem to be saying that the UT's problems are based on some conservative slant in their coverage or due to a conservative editorial page. But aren't all papers having issues left right and center. What local daily is seeing readership increases? The problem is the young don't read the paper and the old are dying.

Oct. 6, 2008

Response to post #19: The confusion is over the word SLANT. I have complained about the U-T's slanted news coverage, particularly in the vendetta against Aguirre and the campaign against reformer Frye. The editorial page and columnists are supposed to have a slant, but the news side is not. Over and over, I have said that the MAJOR problems of the U-T are demographic and technological -- the same problems faced by other metro dailies. The U-T, however, has done worse than most other major metro dailies. The hate campaign against Aguirre, and the slanted coverage of Frye, have contributed to the stark market share decline, but not as much as the demographic and technological problems. The lack of credibility is one of the reasons for the U-T doing worse than other metro dailies. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 7, 2008

Don we may agree or disagree about the slanted coverage in regard to Aguirre and Frye but I just don’t see this as having any affect on the decline in readership. I don’t think the average reader is savvy enough to pick up on the bias that you see or to care about it strongly enough to cancel their subscription.

I know in my office most people don’t know who their city councilmen are or what the city attorney even does. It is unfortunate but I believe true. If you were to give percentage blame for the decline to each of the factors you mention “demographic and technological” and “slanted converge” what would they be?

Oct. 7, 2008

You can slant a paper in any direction you like -- you just can't make it BORING, which is the UT's greatest sin.

True, Bell has little journalistic background, but he could order the immediate recruitment of more talented editorial management. And he cannot do this while David Copley shields la Winner. But David put Karin on the sales block with the rest of the tired Mission Valley furnishings. I'll bet that Winner's continued employment is not part of any deal he makes with a buyer.

Oct. 7, 2008

Response to post #21: Many activist Democrats and reformers canceled subscriptions over the hate campaign against Aguirre and the slanted coverage of Frye. Keep in mind that I have always said this was not a major factor in the U-T's plunge. The percentage you seek? I would say demographic and technological factors are at least 95 percent of the problem, and lack of editorial credibility the remaining 5 percent. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 7, 2008

Response to post #22: I think you can be certain that Winner's continued employment is not part of any proposed deal. She is 64, I believe. But that's a small point. I doubt strongly if ANYBODY is on the don't-fire list. David wants to sell and there is almost no market out there. He can't be attaching any contingencies. He wants to get his money and run. I doubt if there would be contingencies such as that even in good times. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 7, 2008

Does the UT own the Mission Valley buiildng and land???

Oct. 8, 2008

Response to post #25: I am quite sure U-T owns the Mission Valley property, as well as the office in La Jolla and a computer building there. I am still not sure whether the U-T or the James S. Copley Foundation owns the library. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 8, 2008

Response to post #25: I am quite sure U-T owns the Mission Valley property, as well as the office in La Jolla and a computer building there. I am still not sure whether the U-T or the James S. Copley Foundation owns the library in La Jolla. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 8, 2008

By the way, what is a "proposed sale?" It's either up for sale or it's not. I think we moved past the idea of a "proposed" sale back in July.

Oct. 9, 2008

Today's UT ran a piece on the sale. Pity the writer, Tom Kupper. The "story" reads like a press release ...

Take the story's lead: "The proposed sale of The San Diego Union-Tribune has attracted interest from a number of newspaper companies as well as investors from outside the industry."

Yes, but serious interest, Tom? Or are these just lookie-loos who finally got a glimpse of the famously secret UT finances?

"In recent weeks, representatives of Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Co. and San Jose Mercury News parent MediaNews were among those who visited the paper's Mission Valley offices for presentations on the business."

I would love to know about this "presentation." Who gave it? Who prepared it? What does it include? What does it exclude??

"Representatives of the various companies either declined to comment or did not return phone calls, so it is impossible to gauge which ones are serious about pursuing bids for the paper in coming weeks. Other potential buyers could also emerge."

Well, that tells us a lot.

"Copley Executive Vice President Harold Fuson Jr. declined to comment on possible buyers or the timeline for a sale."

¡Que supresa!

Oct. 9, 2008

Gee whiz! If David cannot sell the paper and it is no longer spewing cash into his coffers, what will he do to support his Scotch habit, his $30 million yacht on the Riviera, his La Jolla home, and all his other high-maintenence lifestyle features?

Poor guy might have to start living like a typical subscriber. Watch his expenses, sell off his toys, drink Bud. What an awful prospect.

Oct. 9, 2008

Response to post #30: The company made a lot of money for decades. Some of it may have been lost in bad 2000-2002 investments, but it is still a good pile, I suspect. So even if David gets little for the paper, he will still have lots of money, I am sure. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2008

Response to post #31: If you wrote an honest biographical account of the Copley saga, a publishing company would reject it as improbable fiction. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2008

Maybe he'll end up back in the rented 54th St. house where his mom landed when she hit San Diego.

Oct. 9, 2008

Response to post #28: The U-T probably felt it had to write something. And it wasn't going to tell the truth on this topic. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2008

Response to post #29: If Copley ultimately can't find a buyer, then it was still a proposed sale as of this morning. Best, Don Bauder

Oct. 9, 2008

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