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N.Y. Times Breaks Million Mark in Weekday Sales

April 30, 1985|THOMAS B. ROSENSTIEL | Times Staff Writer

The New York Times has broken the 1-million mark in weekday circulation for the first time, largely on the strength of its national edition, according to figures released Monday on newspaper sales around the country.

At the same time, another national newspaper, USA Today, showed a circulation decline of more than 100,000 from the year before, and the Wall Street Journal lost 91,970, the figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations revealed.

Although the numbers are preliminary, analysts said, they suggest an intense rivalry for the growing national newspaper market.

The figures are averages of circulation over a six-month period ended March 31 and are contrasted with the similar period ended in March, 1984. The audit bureau, in Schaumburg, Ill., is the standard auditor of circulation figures used by newspapers to help set their advertising rates.

New York Times circulation rose to 1,013,211 as of March 31, rising 43,160 from the year before and breaking the 1-million mark for the first time. The Sunday edition of the New York Times gained 30,455 during the year, averaging circulation of 1,623,562 for the six months.

Newspaper analyst J. Kendrick Noble of the New York brokerage firm of Paine Webber Mitchell Hutchins said the New York Times' growth resulted in large part from the opening of several new printing locations for its two-section national edition that made home delivery available in new markets.

While the New York Times was growing, the other two national newspapers were slipping in circulation. USA Today, which is expected to lose more than $50 million this year, lost 122,007 in circulation in the last year, dropping to 1,162,606.

John Morton, an analyst with the Washington brokerage firm of Lynch, Jones & Ryan, ascribed part of USA Today's decline to the paper's 10-cent price increase last fall to 35 cents. That boost caused a significant drop in sales from news racks or boxes--though not from newsstands, where people can get change.

In part to compensate for those losses, USA Today more than doubled, to 113,728, the number of newspapers it sells in bulk--often in exchange for advertising space--to car rental agencies, airlines and hotels, which in turn give them free to customers. These "bulk sales" are not included in the preliminary ABC figures, although they will be included in USA Today's own official figures.

The actual decline in USA Today circulation also may be less than the current figures suggest, Morton said, because last year's figures are only a three-month average, a period that had temporary gains associated with launching the paper in new markets.

The Wall Street Journal also continued to suffer declines--reversing a five-year trend in which the financial daily saw its circulation swell 30%.

In the last year, Journal circulation fell 91,970, or 4.4%, dropping below the newspaper's much-publicized 2-million mark to 1,990,025. The Journal has blamed its circulation problems on temporary resistance to the raising of its subscription price to more than $100 a year.

Noble said one reason for the Journal's decline is a sluggish stock market. Several analysts have noted that the Journal can no longer expand its circulation as it did in the early 1980s by opening new printing plants. Today, almost every major urban area already gets early morning delivery of the Journal.

Journal spokesman Lawrence Armour said the paper's circulation has increased slightly since January.

In Southern California, several papers enjoyed circulation gains. The Los Angeles Times' circulation grew 12,028 weekdays to 1,069,564 and 10,894 Sundays, to 1,332,138.

At the same time, the Daily News in Van Nuys saw its growth in circulation slow. Daily News circulation rose 3,833 to 145,523 weekdays and 2,213 to 165,119 Sundays.

The Los Angeles Herald Examiner also had a gain in weekday circulation, rising 764 to 237,424. Outgoing publisher Francis Dale attributed the increase to a new circulation director, a sales program in which all employees were given bonuses for selling subscriptions and a more stable distribution system.

The Orange County Register also saw its weekday circulation grow to 291,619, an increase of 12,167. Register Sunday circulation rose 14,976 to 326,038.

Other papers across the nation also saw circulation gains. The Chicago Tribune showed gains, as did the Chicago Sun-Times in its first year under the ownership of Australian press magnate Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch's New York Post, however, lost 61,756 in circulation, dropping to 901,313, while the rival New York Daily News, after working to solve distribution problems, enjoyed a 16,097 gain to 1,390,955.

The Washington Times, the conservative newspaper owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, was audited for the first time, posting a circulation of 83,962.

In Dallas, the Morning News' weekday circulation rose by 34,106 to 368,683, while the Times Herald's circulation dropped 16,110 to 241,055. The Times Herald is owned by Times Mirror Co., publisher of The Times.

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