One only has to look at the attrition of the print advertising revenue of America's publicly traded newspaper companies to see the extent to which the newspaper industry has shrunk. Another, more specific measure, just as startling, is the paid print circulation of America's 100 largest newspapers based on the same measure. This number has dropped by over a quarter at many papers in as little as three years.
The circulation drops are often due to strategic decisions by newspaper companies. Managements do not want to maintain the expense to print and ship papers well outside their home cities, which is an expensive distribution model. In other cases, media companies drop people who pay very little for the paper. Only subscribers who pay enough to be profitable customers remain. Papers in some cities, like Detroit, are no longer printed seven days a week. In each of these models, the plan is to cut the cost of their print circulation operations to either lower losses or make very modest profits.
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The fallout of the slow destruction of the industry has been born to a substantial extent by four companies, which own the largest number of America's top 100 papers based on combined paid print and paid digital circulation. These include Tronc Inc. (TRNC), formerly known as Tribune Publishing, which owns papers in some of the largest cities in America. The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune are the dailies in America's second and third largest cities.
Tronc was recently a takeover target of Gannett Co. Inc. (GCI), the largest newspaper chain by the total paid circulation of its papers. Gannett does not own a large number of newspapers in America's largest cities, but, by total newspaper count, it makes up for that. The biggest paper Gannett owns, the Record in New Jersey, it bought recently.
Another of the largest four largest publishers is debt-crippled McClatchy Co. (MNI). With a debt load of nearly $1 billion, it can barely pay the service on the debt compared to the amount of its operating income. McClatchy's largest papers are in Fort Worth and Miami.
Finally, privately held Digital First Media has a profit and loss statement that is hard to obtain because the company does not have to disclose it.
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The only paper that currently has a paid circulation model that works extremely well is The New York Times, which had a recent surge in its total. At the end of the third quarter, New York Times Co. (NYT) had 1,557,000 digital-only subscribers. According to the company, it added 132,000 paid subscribers between the election and the end of November. Presumably a large portion of these were digital.
Newspaper ownership among the largest properties falls primarily into four categories. The first is those owned by the large public corporations. The second are those controlled by private companies, the largest of which is the aforementioned Digital First Media, owned by private equity firm Alden Capital, Hearst. Advance Publications is another. It is controlled by the Newhouse family. The third model is papers owned by extremely rich individuals. The most well-known of these is the Washington Post, controlled by Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com. Another is the struggling New York Daily News, owned by real estate tycoon Mort Zuckerman. Hedge fund manager executive John Henry is the principal owner of the Boston Globe. The final model is papers owned by nonprofit enterprises. These include the Tampa Bay Times and Philadelphia Inquirer.
Below are the 100 largest newspapers in the United States based on combined print and digital paid subscriptions. Circulation data was provided by the Alliance for Audited Media and is for the third quarter of 2015. Circulation is the five-day average for publications that are published Monday through Friday. The list only compares newspapers that report this five-day average. To be included in total circulation figures, digital subscriptions must be restricted access and comply with AAM standards. Circulation figures also include affiliate publications as grouped by the AAM.
Rank Newspaper Owner Circulation 1 New York Times New York Times Company 2,237,601 2 Long Island Newsday Patrick Dolan and Charles Dolan 512,118 3 Los Angeles Times tronc, Inc. 507,395 4 New York Post News Corp. 424,721 5 Dallas Morning News A. H. Belo Corp. 410,587 6 Chicago Tribune tronc, Inc. 384,962 7 Washington Post Nash Holdings, LLC 356,768 8 Daily News (New York) Mortimer Zuckerman 299,538 9 Amnewyork Patrick Dolan and Charles Dolan 291,991 10 Star Tribune (Minneapolis) Glen Taylor 285,129 11 Houston Chronicle Hearst Corp. 276,445 12 Austin American Cox Enterprises 246,963 13 Tampa Bay Times Poynter Institute 245,042 14 Honolulu Star-Advertiser Black Press Group Ltd. 243,376 15 The Record (Woodland Park, NJ) Gannett Co. 242,567 16 Boston Globe John W. Henry 232,546 17 Las Vegas Review-Journal News + Media Capital Group LLC (Sheldon Adelson) 232,372 18 Philadelphia Inquirer Interstate General Media 227,245 19 Fort Worth Star-Telegram McClatchy Co. 215,476 20 The Denver Post / The Sunday Denver Post Daily First Media 196,286 21 Arizona Republic Gannett Co. 188,467 22 Metro New York Seabay Media Holdings LLC 180,866 23 El Vocero De Puerto Rico Publi-Inversiones 179,761 24 The Star-Ledger (Newark) Advance Publications, Inc. 170,077 25 San Francisco Chronicle Hearst Corp. 167,602 26 Columbus Dispatch New Media Investment Group 164,995 27 Tribune Review (Pittsburgh) Trib Total Media 161,665 28 The Palm Beach Post Cox Enterprises 160,299 29 San Antonio Express-News Hearst Corp. 158,986 30 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Gannett Co. 154,763 31 El Nuevo Dia GFR Media 153,957 32 The Salt Lake Tribune / Deseret News Huntsman Family Investments / Deseret Management Corporation 152,210 33 Express (Washington DC) Nash Holdings, LLC 148,928 34 Kansas City Star McClatchy Co. 146,730 35 Chicago Sun-Times Wrapports, LLC 146,539 36 The Virginian-Pilot Landmark Media Enterprises 143,682 37 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Block Communications 140,987 38 The Miami Herald / El Nuevo Herald McClatchy Co. 139,735 39 South Florida Sun Sentinel tronc, Inc. 135,404 40 Arkansas Democrat Gazette WEHCO Media 130,552 41 Indianapolis Star Gannett Co. 127,180 42 Advocate (Baton Rouge) John Georges 126,976 43 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Lee Enterprises, Inc. 124,712 44 The Baltimore Sun tronc, Inc. 121,840 45 Buffalo News Berkshire Hathaway 121,413 46 Hartford Courant tronc, Inc. 114,227 47 Investor's Business Daily (Los Angeles) . 113,038 48 Metro Puerto Rico Llc Metro International 107,690 49 Charlotte Observer McClatchy Co. 107,321 50 Omaha World-Herald / Sunday World-Herald Berkshire Hathaway 104,958 51 Cincinnati Enquirer Gannett Co. 104,354 52 Telegram & Gazette / Sunday Telegram New Media Investment Group 104,350 53 State (Columbia, SC) McClatchy Co. 102,974 54 Courier-Journal (Louisville) Gannett Co. 102,895 55 News & Observer (Raleigh) McClatchy Co. 98,158 56 Oklahoman The Anschutz Corporation 96,885 57 La Opinion (Los Angeles) Impremedia 92,365 58 Richmond Times-Dispatch Berkshire Hathaway 90,946 59 Albuquerque Journal Journal Publishing Co. 89,635 60 Fresno Bee McClatchy Co. 87,007 61 Tennessean Gannett Co. 83,645 62 Democrat And Chronicle (Rochester, NY) Gannett Co. 82,510 63 Des Moines Register Gannett Co. 82,371 64 Boston Herald, Boston Sunday Herald Herald Media Inc. 81,933 65 Metro Philadelphia Seabay Media Holdings LLC 79,044 66 Daily Herald, The Sunday Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) Paddock Publications 78,878 67 Indice (San Juan) GFR Media 76,962 68 Blade (Toledo) Block Communications 76,642 69 Republican (Springfield, MA) Advance Publications, Inc. 76,353 70 Primera Hora (San Juan) GFR Media 74,215 71 Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ) Gannett Co. 73,194 72 Post And Courier (Charleston) Evening Post Publishing Co. 69,433 73 Metro Boston Seabay Media Holdings LLC 68,966 74 Wisconsin State Journal Lee Enterprises, Inc. 67,965 75 Akron Beacon Journal, Sunday Akron Journal Black Press Group Ltd. 65,783 76 Tulsa World Berkshire Hathaway 61,817 77 Morning Call (Allentown) tronc, Inc. 60,962 78 The News Journal Media Group (New Castle, DE) Gannett Co. 60,620 79 Florida Times-Union Morris Publishing Co. 60,399 80 Arizona Daily Star Lee Enterprises 57,735 81 Roanoke Times Berkshire Hathaway 54,293 82 Chattanooga Times Free Press WEHCO Media, Inc. 53,552 83 News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) McClatchy Co. 53,510 84 Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT) Sandusky Newspapers, Inc. 53,298 85 LNP / Sunday LNP (Lancaster, PA) LNP Media Group 52,976 86 Daytona Beach News-Journal New Media Investment Group 52,414 87 Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) Sonoma Media Investments LLC 51,710 88 Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY) The Hume Family 50,974 89 Journal News (White Plains, NY) Gannett Co. 50,699 90 New Haven Register Digital First Media 50,658 91 Modesto Bee McClatchy Co. 49,406 92 Journal Gazette, News Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN) The Journal Gazette Co. / Ogden Newspapers, Inc. 48,199 93 Times Union (Albany) Hearst Corp. 48,144 94 Lincoln Journal Star Lee Enterprises, Inc. 47,831 95 Sarasota Herald-Tribune New Media Investment Group 47,400 96 Journal Star (Peoria, IL) New Media Investment Group 46,947 97 Wichita Eagle McClatchy Co. 46,709 98 South Bend Tribune Shurz Communications 44,951 99 Register-Guard (Eugene, OR) Guard Publishing Co. 44,697 100 Gazette (Colorado Springs) Clarity Media Group 44,072 Circulation Data Source: Alliance for Audited Media - Q3 2015