NEW YORK (AP) -- The Wall Street Journal remains the top-selling U.S. daily newspaper, but The New York Times has surpassed USA Today for second, thanks to an expansion into digital subscriptions, according to a report released Tuesday by an industry group.
The Journal's weekday circulation averaged 2.38 million from October through March, the period covered by the report from the Alliance for Audited Media. That was a 12 percent increase from the same period a year ago, the AAM said. Most of the growth came in digital subscriptions, which accounted for nearly 900,000, or 40 percent, of the total circulation at the newspaper, which is owned by News Corp.
The New York Times began charging for unlimited access to its heavily trafficked website two years ago. The move has helped boost its paid circulation by reeling in more subscribers who are willing to pay for unlimited digital access the newspaper's content. The Times' weekday circulation averaged 1.87 million during the latest period, an 18 percent increase from last year. The figure included digital circulation of 1.13 million, a 32 percent increase from last year.
AAM's rules allow publications to count as multiple subscriptions the same person's paid usage on multiple outlets, such as a paper newspaper, a website and a tablet computer.
AAM's methods for tracking circulation have changed in the past few years as newspaper publishers attempt to counter a decline in paid readership of their print editions and an even sharper drop in the advertising sales that bring in most of the industry's revenue. One of the biggest changes has occurred on the Web and on mobile devices, where newspapers are increasingly requiring readers to pay a fee to gain unlimited access to digital content that was once free. The AAM includes paid digital subscriptions and so-called branded editions —regional versions of newspapers or those tailored for commuters— in its circulation tally.
Digital subscriptions now account for 19 percent of average U.S. daily newspaper circulation, up from 14 percent last year, the AAM said.
Overall, the average daily circulation at the 593 U.S. newspapers that submitted figures to AAM declined by 0.7 percent from March 2012. The AAM cautioned against comparing the industry's overall numbers with the previous year because of the different ways newspapers have been delivering and selling editions. Some newspapers, for instance, have reduced the number of weekdays that they deliver print editions. Other newspapers are listing branded editions that weren't counted in past years, according to the AAM.
In what was then a break from the industry's practice, The Wall Street Journal began charging for online access to its business-oriented newspaper during the 1990s. That move helped The Journal leapfrog USA Today as the largest U.S. newspaper in 2009.
The New York Times remained the largest Sunday newspaper with an average circulation of 2.32 million, a 16 percent increase from last year. Neither The Journal nor USA Today publishes a print edition on Sunday.
USA Today's weekday circulation fell 8 percent from last year to 1.67 million. The newspaper, owned by Gannett Co., still offers free access to its website. Even so, USA Today delivers a digital version that had nearly 250,000 paying subscribers during the latest period, according to AAM.
After The Journal first emerged with the largest total weekday circulation, USA Today could still claim the largest paid audience in print.
That is no long true though. The Journal's print circulation totaled 1.48 million in the latest period versus 1.42 million at USA Today.
In a statement, USA Today spokeswoman Heidi Zimmerman said the circulation figures don't capture the full scope of the newspaper's audience because the numbers omit digital readers who aren't paying to consume content. For instance, USA Today says it has more than 32 million readers on its website. The newspaper believes it will be able to make more money from that traffic by selling more digital ads.