Media Mutt

Ugly Circulation Numbers for Maine Daily Newspapers

By Al Diamon

The new numbers are out from the Audit Bureau of Circulations for Maine newspapers for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2012. The figures aren’t pretty, particularly for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

While national statistics indicate the precipitous decline in daily newspaper circulation has come to an end – in part because the ABC now allows papers to count paid subscribers to their online content – there’s no sign of such a turnaround in this state. In fact, the numbers are worse than at any time in the past three years.

The Portland Press Herald hung on to its title as the state’s largest daily, but only barely. The Portland paper saw its average Monday-through-Friday paid circulation decline by a whopping 11 percent from the same period in 2011. The MaineToday Media-owned publication sold 52,323 copies each day a year ago, compared to 46,371 in 2012.

From 2010 to 2011, the Press Herald’s numbers dropped just 4.5 percent, leading to speculation that a death spiral could be avoided. The paper had lost nearly 10 percent of its readers from 2009 to 2010, its previous worst performance.

The situation is even grimmer for MaineToday’s Telegram. After taking a hit of almost 11 percent between 2009 and 2010, the paper embarked on an aggressive circulation-building program, offering subscriptions for as little as a dollar a year. That worked for a while. From 2010 to 2011, its numbers held almost steady. But the cheap deals were too expensive for the company to maintain, and when they ended, so did the positive news. In the last year the Telegram’s average sales plunged from 82,300 to 72,648, a loss of 11.7 percent.

The news was better at other MaineToday papers, but only slightly. The Kennebec Journal in Augusta was off 9 percent in daily circulation and 7 percent on Sunday. That translates to 10,202 copies on weekdays and 10,672 on Sundays. In Waterville, the KJ’s sister publication, the Morning Sentinel, dipped 8 percent during the week (13,335) and 6 percent on Sundays (13,532).

When U.S. Postal Service reports on ownership and circulation were posted in October, they indicated the Bangor Daily News might have surpassed the Press Herald as the state’s top daily. But the ABC numbers, which are calculated using different standards, show otherwise. Even though the Bangor paper lost a relatively modest 6.7 percent during the week and 7 percent for its weekend edition, it still finished an average of a couple of thousand copies a day behind its downstate rival. The Monday-through-Friday figure: 44,288. On Saturdays: 52,093.

The Lewiston Sun Journal, Times Record in Brunswick and Journal Tribune in Biddeford don’t submit circulation figures to the ABC.


Al Diamon can be emailed at

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