Chronicle sees steep 6% drop in circulation (updated!)

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The latest newspaper circulation numbers have been reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the Chronicle has suffered another decline in readership:

Average weekday circulation of America’s 20 biggest newspapers for the six-month period ended Sept. 30, as reported Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. [The percentage changes are from the comparable year-ago period.]

1. USA Today, 2,296,335, down 0.59 percent

2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,083,660, down 1.10 percent

3. The New York Times, 1,126,190, up 0.46 percent

4. Los Angeles Times, 843,432, down 3.79 percent

5. New York Daily News, 688,584, down 3.70 percent

6. The Washington Post, 678,779, down 4.09 percent

7. New York Post, 662,681, down 1.74 percent

8. Chicago Tribune, 586,122, down 2.47 percent

9. Houston Chronicle, 521,419, down 6.01 percent

10. The Boston Globe, 414,225, down 8.25 percent

May’s circulation numbers had the Chronicle‘s decline at 3.9 percent. Clearly, the current business model isn’t working at 801 Texas Ave.

RELATED: Laurence Simon and Lone Star Times

UPDATE: The Chron is running an AP story about the nationwide circulation woes. Most head-scratching paragraph:

Four newspapers whose circulation was affected by Hurricane Katrina did not file statements with the Audit Bureau: The Times-Picayune of New Orleans; the American Press in Lake Charles, La.; The Beaumont Enterprise in Texas; and The Daily Leader in Brookhaven, Miss.

Since I don’t recall Katrina impacting Beaumont, TX, I am assuming the story meant Hurricane Rita, in the case of the Beaumont Enterprise.

UPDATE AGAIN: The Chronicle did that poof-thing again. The link in the above update now goes to an entirely different Chronicle-credited story/apologia:

The Chronicle’s decline was primarily due to a more conservative auditing posture by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, said Jack Sweeney, president and publisher of the Chronicle.

“We used to be able to collect and show proof of payment to ABC on overdue accounts” said Sweeney. “Now if a subscriber is one day late with a payment over 90 days, the computer system automatically eliminates the address from the paid circulation averages.”

Soaring fuel costs have also altered circulation strategies, said Sweeney. “We’ve pulled our distribution in closer to our core market by eliminating San Antonio, Dallas, far South Texas and parts of Louisiana.”

The Chronicle’s 2005 circulation averages also suffered the effects of Hurricane Rita with evacuations and gas shortages curtailing rack and store sales over several days in parts of East Texas.

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: That bolded paragraph is some kind of spinning by Sweeney! One former distributor tells me there was always pressure from the Chronicle brass to throw newspapers even when a subscriber stopped paying. Now we know why — they hoped to count those “subscribers” as paid circulation if they could ever entice them into coming back. The current practice is more honest.

That business about pulling circulation from Dallas because of fuel costs is funny. Dallas has a real newspaper, not to mention the Star-Telegram. Why in the world would anybody in that metro area read the Chronicle?

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.