Newspapers large and small are trying to put a positive spin on the latest, drooping circulation figures and with some justification.


The eight Los Angeles-area daily newspapers that report to the Audit Bureau of Circulation reported a 3.6 percent decline in weekday circulation to 1,393,546 in the six-month period ended Sept. 30. Sunday circulation fell 4.2 percent compared to the like period a year ago.


That came amid a national 2.6 percent decline in weekday circulation and a 3.1 percent decline in Sunday circulation, as readers increasingly turn to the Internet and other forms of new media.


But at least some of the drop represents a strategic decision by publishers over the last two audit periods to build regular paid circulation and shed deeply discounted subscriptions and promotions, such as third-party sales to major advertisers for delivery to non-subscribers.


"During the past six months we have renewed our focus on building individually paid copies that our advertisers have told us they value the most," Los Angeles Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson said in a statement. "In addition, we have focused our acquisition efforts on building copies and readership toward the latter part of the week to mirror our readers' lifestyles and our advertisers' objectives."


The question is if it will matter. Weekday circulation at the Times fell 3.8 percent to 843,432, with the No. 2 Los Angeles Daily News down 5.1 percent to 169,379. Sunday circulation at the two largest dailies fell 3.5 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.


Other losses ranged from a 1.2-percent drop in weekday circulation at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, to 95,816, to a 10.5 percent drop at the Pasadena Star-News, to 31,036.


Industry analyst Mike Groves, president of M.G. Strategic Research in Washington D.C., agreed that "advertisers would rather have people who are engaged with the newspaper product" meaning paid subscribers.


But continued losses still mean there are fewer eyeballs reading the pages and that eventually will mean lower ad revenues. And few expect the losses to stop.


"Given continued media fragmentation, including the growing use of the online medium, we have no reason to believe these declines will reverse themselves anytime soon," wrote Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine, who tracks Times' parent Tribune Co., in a note to investors. Fine, in fact, issued a report that raises the specter of Tribune shedding some of its newspaper properties, including the Times.


"The company is under pressure to start investing in higher growth, higher return areas and/or monetize some of its current assets," the Merrill Lynch report said.


Going Weekly
The pending New Times merger with LA Weekly owner Village Voice Media is likely to make the region's leading alternative newspaper an even bigger 800-pound gorilla than it already is.


But that's not deterring Martin Albornoz. The publisher of the 3- & #733; year-old, twice-monthly L.A. Alternative Press has decided to retool the publication into a weekly.


The 60,000-circulation Press went on hiatus this month as staff members put the finishing touches on the redesign in time for a planned Dec. 2 re-launch as the L.A. Alternative. The newspaper, which averages 28 to 40 pages, plans to expand its news coverage and add movie theater listings in a bid attract more advertisers who want weekly distribution.


"The paper does tend to get stale after a week," said Albornoz, a 34-year-old University of California, Berkeley political science graduate who founded the publication as the Silver Lake Press with his journalist wife Yvette Doss. The Press, which originally focused on the neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park, became a citywide paper in 2003.


An unnamed investor is providing seed money for the first few months of weekly publication, Albornoz said. The full-time staff will be expanded from three to five and additions are likely to a stable of 18 regular freelancers.


Though he hopes to add pages and increase circulation to 80,000 by early next year, Albornoz said he's committed to appealing to businesses that fear their ads get lost in the LA Weekly, which typically exceeds 200 pages.


Salem Boost
Looking to boost the potential nighttime audience of conservative news-talk KRLA-AM (870), Salem Communications Corp. recently paid $8.5 million for a 78-acre parcel in the West Covina area where it plans to build a transmission tower complex.


KRLA's daytime signal will continue to transmit from the station's original tower in Eagle Rock. But the station must reduce its signal strength at night to reduce potential interference with other stations, less of an issue at the new site.


Salem expects to begin submitting plans to local and federal regulators by the end of the year. Baring unforeseen approval delays, the new towers could be completed by the end of next year. Depending on how much land is left over after the six-tower transmission complex is designed, Salem may consider recouping some of its initial investment by selling the remaining land for development.


*Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com .

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