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ABC figures up in the US : proof that paywalls may save newspapers?


By Noel Young | Correspondent

May 3, 2012 | 5 min read

It was the headline to gladden any newspaperman's heart: "Globe's paid circulation rises first time since 04". The Boston Globe told readers yesterday that paid circulation had grown for the first time since September 2004.

New York Times: Huge uplift

Quoting " an independent auditor of newspaper circulation", (ABC to you and me) the Globe reported :"Average Sunday circulation was 365,512 for the six months that ended in March, an increase of 2.5 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Average daily circulation rose nearly 2.9 percent during those same six months, to 225,482."

The catch (if there is a catch) : The numbers include print circulation and digital paid subscriptions to, which was launched in October.

Over the past 18 months, the American ABC has made rule changes to address the newspaper industry’s continuing expansion beyond print, including new ways to audit and report digital editions published on websites, tablets, and smartphones.

Under the new rules, circulation numbers may include some duplication between print and digital subscribers - and Tuesday’s report was the first to show year-over-year numbers reflecting the changes.

In Britain , it is too early to dance for joy - the revolution has not arrived in the UK yet. The separate ABC organisation in the UK audits printed papers and digital editions completely separately and there are no plans to combine them.

Of course, the publisher can present the figures in any way he or she chooses. For myself, if a reader buys a paper at the corner shop or online, I can't see why there should be a distinction. Papers who still give the product away free will no doubt be reflecting on this.

The most striking advance in America was by the Globes's sister paper. The New York Times reported a 73 percent increase in total circulation in the six-month report, fueled in large part by digital gains on its paid-for website.

The US Audit Bureau of Circulations said the Times online now has more subscribers than the newspaper’s print version. Average digital circulation was 807,026, compared with print circulation of 779,731, for a total of 1,586,757.

With the new method of computing ,the national , average daily newspaper circulation rose by less than 1 percent, while Sunday circulation rose 5 percent, the Chicago-based Audit Bureau said. On average nationwide in the US , paid digital subscriptions account for 14.2 percent of newspapers’ total circulation, up from 8.66 percent in March 2011.

“This is not only good news, it’s great news for newspapers,’’ said Lou Ureneck, professor of journalism at Boston University.

By including digital subscribers, he said, circulation figures “better reflect the marketplace reality where readers are being counted, whether they are reading online or in print, and these new metrics are showing a strong demand for journalism in our chaotic information environment.’’

Ureneck said the increases in readership , “demonstrate that the decision to erect paywalls now seems to have been a wise and a crucial decision.’’

As of March 18, paid digital subscribers to and the Globe’s e-reader and replica editions totaled about 18,000, up about 13 percent since the end of the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Globe uniquely still runs a free website alongside the paid-for one. In March, the free website,, attracted around 7 million visitors, according to comScore. But it was the paid website which gave the Globe its circulation bounce.

The most obvious beneficiary in Britain of the American system would be Rupert Murdoch's Times and Sunday Times, both of whom have a sturdy paywall in place . One question to be resolved is what to do about adverts: The Boston Globe e-paper allows you to turn pages and look at ads (but not tear out coupons). And not all paywall papers have e-papers.

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