Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Bucks National Trend; Tallies Up More New Readers

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Despite the drubbing taken by American newspapers in recent months, the Tribune-Review has posted significant gains in circulation since 2007.

Average circulation for the Sunday Tribune-Review rose by 2,681 newspapers, or 1.4 percent, to 193,563 in 2008, according to unaudited figures recently filed with Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Since then, the Sunday Tribune-Review’s average circulation for the six months ended March 31 increased by 1,084 to 193,507, or nearly 1 percent higher than a year ago. And average daily circulation for the six months ended March 31 jumped by 13,400 to 164,311, or almost 8.9 percent higher than the year earlier.

"That’s astonishingly rare, especially among big-city papers," said Mark Fitzgerald, editor at large for Editor & Publisher magazine. "We’ve seen some small markets gain some circulation, but the big losses have been in the metro markets, in cities like Pittsburgh."

"That runs very counter to the trend in the industry," said John Morton, a veteran newspaper industry analyst. "Generally, Sunday circulation has been declining more than daily."

Average Sunday circulation among the 571 newspapers tracked by the Audit Bureau of Circulations in the six months ended last September fell 4.8 percent from a year earlier. Average daily circulation in that time span fell 4.6 percent.

Tribune-Review management attributes the climb in circulation mostly to aggressive marketing and attractive subscription packages for new readers.

"We’ve put our name everywhere," said Ralph Martin, CEO of Trib Total Media, which publishes the Tribune-Review. He cited the newspaper’s prominence in PNC Park and Mellon Arena. "We are one of the symbols of Pittsburgh."

Martin said the Tribune-Review has successfully converted to Sunday subscribers the readers of local weekly publications it acquired in 2007.

"That has helped us immensely," he said.

"Most of the growth has been in home-delivery subscription sales, followed by single-copy store sales," said Circulation Director Jeff Simmons. "We’ve also had very effective selling of our newspapers through a number of channels."

He cited efforts at the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show, Penguins and Pirates games, and "knocking on people’s doors around the region."

By contrast, some major dailies’ circulations have dropped to zero.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which started up before the Civil War, printed its last edition on March 17. The Rocky Mountain News, a scrappy tabloid that served metro Denver for more than a century, shut down at the end of February.

"The newspaper business really started to decline in 2007, when real estate, automotive and help wanted ads, the three major sources of classified, started to decline," said analyst Morton.

In addition, many readers, especially younger ones, have turned from newspapers to the Internet as their news source, said the analyst.

The Tribune-Review is pushing to expand its geographic base, Martin said.

"Newspapers are trying to decide whether or not to be seven days a week anymore, and we’re trying to decide how do we get out to Steubenville or Clarion," he said.