Newspaper Circulation: Wall Street Journal Bucks the Downward Trend

No wonder executives at The Wall Street Journal are so eager to emphasize their newspaper's circulation gains as a sign of its vitality. Small as those gains may be, they are a unique phenomenon within the universe of large dailies, where double-digit declines are more the norm.

According to figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Journal was the only one of the 25 largest U.S. newspapers to increase its average weekday circulation in the six-month period that ended March 31, 2010. By adding an extra 10,000 copies per day, the News Corp.'s (NWS) paper boosted its average by 0.5% in a year-over-year comparison.

That's not much, but it was enough to push the Journal past USA Today to become the nation's largest weekday paper. The Gannett (GCI) paper saw its average circulation fall by more than 287,000 copies, a 13.6% drop. USA Today was anticipating the losses, which stem in part from a decline in airline traffic and hotel stays, two circulation sources upon which it is unusually reliant.

Angling for Weekend Increases Also?

But plenty of papers with more conventional business models are feeling the pain as well. Two of the top 25 dailies, the Dallas Morning News and the San Francisco Chronicle, tumbled more than 20%. Besides USA Today, seven more, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and New York Daily News, lost more than 10% of their circulation.

In a development that won't do anything to mute The Wall Street Journal's crowing, The New York Times skidded 8.5%, falling below the 1 million mark on weekdays. The Times can, however, continue to claim the largest Sunday circulation, averaging 1.38 million, down 5.2%.

Could Rupert Murdoch be hoping to claim that distinction for the Journal as well? At a launch event for the Journal's new New York City metro section this morning, Managing Editor Robert Thomson said expanding the Weekend Journal section will be his next major undertaking.