USA Today gets (sheepishly) body slammed by WSJ

BurrellesLuce recently released its annual top media outlets list for 2010. Some interesting changes are occurring. For starters, since the 2004 list (as far back as Burrelles’ online archives go), USA Today has been the No. 1 daily newspaper based on circulation (non-Sunday figures). In 2004, USA Today had a daily circulation of 2,192,098, and in 2009, it still topped the list with a circulation of 2,113,725. It hit its peak in 2008, with a daily circulation of 2,284,219.

Now, with a circulation of less than 2 million (1,900,116) for the first time since at least 2004, USA Today falls to No. 2 behind The Wall Street Journal, who has been at No. 2 for at least the past seven years. USA Today‘s circulation has decreased 13.3% since 2004, and since its seven-year peak circulation in 2008, its numbers have declined nearly 17%.

To put it into a different context, it’s basically, as if in a matter of two years, the state of Nevada lost the entire city of Reno and a third of Las Vegas. Poof…disappeared.

So what happened to USA Today‘s readers?

Well, they didn’t jump ship for the WSJ, despite its hostile takeover of the list.

With a 2010 circulation of 2,024, 269, the WSJ has its lowest circulation since 2004. In fact, in the past seven years, 2004 was WSJ’s peak year, with a circulation about 3.8% higher than in 2010. Between 2004 and 2010, WSJ’s circulation hit a relative plateau, with neither increases nor decreases exceeding 3.8%.

Let’s focus on the past year. From 2009 circulation figures to the newest ones for 2010, USA Today lost more than 213,000 readers, and the WSJ lost almost 58,000. Where did more than a quarter of a million readers go?

Online. USA Today and the WSJ should be assured their loyal readers aren’t completely gone. Most have simply moved from print to online…where news is free. Well, where advertisers are subsidizing it. (Thanks, by the way.)

It’s also safe to say readers are out there making their own news. And when they aren’t making their own stories – and sharing it among “viewers” in their personal social media worlds – they’re getting news from all the non-newspaper Web sites we probably have open right now: CNN, Twitter, The Daily Beast, Slate, Gawker, Huffington Post. And, since they appear in Burrelles top media outlets of 2010, I’ll include TMZ and NewsBusters among those favorites.

Local major newspapers, the Herald Leader (Lexington) and Courier-Journal (Louisville) are fairing just as well as the list toppers. The C-J, since 2009, has moved from No. 41 to No. 40, but has declined in circulation almost 9%. The HL, since 2008, has moved up the ranks to No. 85 from No. 87, with a circulation decrease of a mild 4.3%.

Final fun fact for now: Of the top 10 newspapers in the 2010 list, the only publication to experience a circulation increase was the Philadelphia Inquirer, whose circulation grew 25%. It moved to No. 10 from No. 20 on the list in one year. One year that saw newspapers not only laying off staff members, but also giving up print editions and going totally digital.

What’s the Philadelphia Inquirer doing? And can others learn from it?

Now Burrelles needs to publish a small newspaper list. Local news is becoming increasingly more important as regional papers are focusing less on news about communities and more on AP-wire stories and trendy blogs and Web site features. Grassroots marketing is and will continue to be important for businesses and organizations that look for endorsement and approval from local communities.  Community members who aren’t reading the WSJ or USA Today.

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2 thoughts on “USA Today gets (sheepishly) body slammed by WSJ

  1. Jonathan Stewart says:

    Wow, very interesting. It won’t be long before these numbers decline further, it seems. Thanks for the interesting research.

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