Pluses, but a minus, too

The Advocate‘s circulation is up, but not close to home.

Within 18 months of John Georges acquiring The Advocate, efforts by the new publisher to boost the daily’s print circulation outside its home market are gaining traction, and so, it appears, is the publication’s push to add mobile app users.

However, print circulation in the newspaper’s core Capital Region market continues to erode.

According to audited circulation data from the Alliance for Audited Media, The Advocate’s overall average print circulation for the 12-month period ended Sept. 30 increased about 2% on Sundays over the same period one year ago to more than 105,000 and by 7% during weekdays to nearly 91,000.

Those figures include editions of The New Orleans Advocate and The Acadiana Advocate, where the publisher reported a combined average circulation of nearly 33,000 in the latest audit period. That’s up more than 40% from combined circulation for the two editions of about 23,200 in the prior-year audit period.

However, in the nine-parish Capital Region, The Advocate’s circulation was down 9% on Sundays to more than 72,000 and down 5% during the week to about 57,800.

Dan Shea, The Advocate’s chief operating officer, says, given nationwide declines in print circulation, the local numbers are better than expected. He also notes that changes in the paper’s pricing structure could have played a factor.

“Since we’ve taken over, we had an end to a whole bunch of discounts on home delivery, and we have also had a price increase on Sunday,” Shea says. “So overall I think it’s pretty remarkable.”

The decline isn’t unique to The Advocate. Print circulation of daily newspapers across the country has been dropping for years. The Times-Picayune in

New Orleans, for instance, saw its print readership drop by 13% to a 12-month average of about 122,000 as of September from an average of about 140,000 one year ago.

Shea points out as noteworthy The Advocate’s growth in a category that measures app usage. By that metric, The Advocate had more than 28,500 mobile app users on a daily basis—more than twice as many as it reported one year ago. “We’ve developed a whole range of apps for all our editions, so it does not surprise me to see those figures have grown,” Shea says.

BEST INDICATOR?

Whether app usage is the best way to measure digital circulation depends on who is talking, however. Circulation figures for The Times-Picayune—which changed its business model in late 2012, reducing its print publication cycle and focusing more heavily on its digital product, NOLA.com—show declines of more than 12% in the category that measures app usage.

However, David Francis, executive vice president of Nola Media Group, which publishes The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com, says a more meaningful way to measure digital readership is to count unique visitors and page views.

According to self-reported data contained in its audit report, The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com had an average of more than 4.3 million unique users per month as of September—about 64% more than it did six months ago; meanwhile, it had an average of more than 40.4 million page impressions per month—4% more than it did one year ago.

“[The metric] that is most relevant to advertisers is total digital audience and total digital page views, regardless of platform,” Francis says. “That is what we, and virtually every other digital organization, use as a measure of success and growth.”

The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com and The Advocate have been in a battle over subscribers, advertisers and contracts to publish legal classifieds since Georges acquired The Advocate in the spring of 2013 and aggressively moved The Advocate into the Crescent City market.

Rick Edmonds of The Poynter Institute, an expert on U.S. newspapers, says it’s still too soon to predict how things will shake out between the two papers. As to declines in print circulation experienced by both papers in their core markets, Edmonds says that is not surprising and is in keeping with national trends.

With respect to measuring digital readership, Edmonds says The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com has seen impressive growth and that its model appears to be working so far, but that it’s too early to declare the model a success.

“They were not aiming for a certain result in one or two years,” he says. “Their strategy is to arrive at the right place in four or five years. I can’t say yet whether it has succeeded or failed.”

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