For several years, Sunday editions have been the brightest star in a fading constellation for print newspapers. When circulation numbers were falling, Sunday routinely did better than daily. As recently as the Audit Bureau of Circulations spring report six months ago, Sunday was up 5 percent year-to-year.
But in a new ABC report released late last month, Sunday outperformed daily by a bare fraction of a percentage point — up 0.6 percent versus daily circulation down 0.2 percent. Not a horrible result, but a marked turn for the worse. Why?
One factor is that the super-couponing craze, at its peak in the spring and summer of 2011, has run its course. Editor Neil Brown of Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times told me that the decline in couponing, together with a price increase, was the main culprit in a 5.9 percent year-to-year Sunday decline for the paper.
John Murray, who directs circulation research and training at the Newspaper Association of America, said in a phone interview that he too thinks the phenomenon of coupon enthusiasts buying multiple copies to increase savings has waned or stopped.
“When circulation executives were budgeting 2012″ a year ago, Murray said, “some of the smart ones used 2010 rather than 2011 as their basis,” figuring the couponing windfall would not be sustained.
Murray added that the complexity of new ABC rules and reports might also be a factor. Some papers may be skipping the expense of additional auditing charges to verify results in multiple platforms, he said.