Continued digital growth helped newspaper circulation hold steady in the semiannual FAS-FAX report released Tuesday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Tribune Co.'s Los Angeles Times topped the list in average daily circulation, with the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune 9th and 11th respectively among U.S. daily newspapers.
The report covers six months ending Sept. 30 and measures total average circulation, which includes print, digital and branded editions, a methodology rolled out in 2010. Digital circulation now accounts for 15.3 percent of the total, up from 9.8 percent in September 2011, according to ABC.
Daily circulation throughout the U.S. declined 0.2 percent while Sunday rose 0.6 percent across all reporting newspapers, according to ABC.
"You are seeing some migration to digital, maybe even a maturation of the publishing process," said Neal Lulofs, executive vice president of Arlington Heights-based ABC. "More papers are publishing apps that are tailored for tablets and smartphone users, and you're starting to see that in the numbers."
For newspapers with online pay walls, verified digital subscriptions are counted toward circulation totals if used at least once every 30 days in the latest ABC guidelines. In that case, a print subscriber who also accesses the newspaper online is considered two circulation units, according to Lulofs.
The Chicago Tribune's relatively late foray into digital subscriptions has yet to have much of an effect on its circulation, Average weekday circulation through September was 411,960, down 3.2 percent from last year. Digital circulation was just over 23,000, or less than 6 percent of the total, according to the report.
That number may grow after the launch of the Tribune's free online registration program in June, with some 230,000 users signing on for full digital access, according to executives.
The Tribune announced this month that it will begin charging for digital subscriptions in November, with registered seven-day print subscribers getting access at no additional charge, opening the door to digital circulation gains in the next survey period.
Average weekday circulation at the Chicago Sun-Times and its branded suburban newspapers was 432,455, up 11.1 percent from last year. Most of that gain was in its digital circulation of 70,932, up more fourfold from last year. The Sun-Times added a pay wall in December.
Excluding its branded suburban papers, the Sun-Times had an average weekday circulation of 263, 292, including digital editions. Its weekday print circulation was 192,360 -- less than half that of the Tribune's.
Sunday circulation for the Tribune was 766,561, which ranked 4th behind the New York Times, Houston Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. The Sun-Times had a Sunday circulation of 408,677, ranking 19th, according to ABC.
The Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald had an average weekday circulation of 96,073, down about 3.6 percent from last year. Its Sunday circulation declined similarly to 103,867.
Nationally, the New York Times saw a 40 percent year-over-year weekday circulation increase, mostly through digital gains. More than 55 percent of its weekday circulation of 1.613 million was digital, according to ABC. Meanwhile, its weekday print circulation of 717,513 is down 6.9 percent from last year.
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