Only One to Charge Online, Only One to Gain Paying Customers

Congratulations to The Wall Street Journal, which now reclaims the title, held by USA Today for years, of the nation’s highest circulation newspaper, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, as reported by Editor & Publisher.

Also, props to it for having the gall to charge for its paper on the Web. On a day when the collapse of print readership of the rest of the top 25 papers accelerated, the Journal, the only one to charge, was also the only one to gain circulation.

Its paid circulation increased 1 percent to more than 2 million. The closest to it amongst the top 25 papers, Newsday (which will this week become the second paper in the top 25 to charge—sort of) recorded a 5 percent slide. Most of the rest were in double-digit declines, with the San Francisco Chronicle collapsing by 26 percent.

It’s worth noting that circulation revenues have actually increased in the last six months at the public companies I’ve looked at. That’s part of a strategy to increase the price of the paper and to get rid of expensive circulation.

But it can’t help you in a deep recession to give your product away free online while charging good money for it (much less raising the price) in print.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.