Unexpectedly Intriguing!
March 31, 2008

Sometime, within the next twelve to eighteen months, the average circulation of the weekday edition of the New York Times will drop below one million. This event marks the continuing decline in the fortunes of what had been the U.S. newspaper of record as the New York Times' average circulation has been well above this level for decades.

We base this prediction upon data recently provided by the New York Times Company in its annual report, which it released earlier this year. Combined with circulation data provided by the Grey Lady's parent company in its previous Securites and Exchange Commission financial data filings, we've updated our charts showing the trend in the New York Times' weekday circulation since it peaked in 1993:

New York Times Weekday Circulation, 1993 through 2007

The table below provides the circulation numbers that we used to create the chart above, both nationally and within the newspaper's home region. Clicking the "Year" links provides the relevant NYT's SEC filing for the indicated year, from which we obtained the newspaper's circulation data, which is reported in the section of the annual report in which the company's management discusses its business:

New York Times Average Weekday Circulation, 1993 through 2007
Year Weekday Circulation (Mon-Fri) Weekday Percentage of Total Circulation in NYC Weekday Circulation Within NYC Market Weekday Circulation Outside NYC Market Percentage Decline of Total Weekday Circulation
1993 1,183,100 64 757,184 425,916 0.0
1994 1,148,800 64 735,232 413,568 -2.9
1995 1,124,300 62 697,066 427,234 -5.0
1996 1,111,800 62 689,316 422,484 -6.0
1997 1,090,900 62 676,358 414,542 -7.8
1998 1,088,100 61 663,741 424,359 -8.0
1999 1,109,700 60 665,820 443,880 -6.2
2000 1,122,400 59 662,216 460,184 -5.1
2001 1,143,700 58 663,346 480,354 -3.3
2002 1,131,400 55 622,270 509,130 -4.4
2003 1,132,000 53 599,960 532,040 -4.3
2004 1,124,700 50 562,350 562,350 -4.9
2005 1,135,800 49 556,542 579,258 -4.0
2006 1,103,600 48 529,728 573,872 -6.7
2007 1,066,600 47 501,302 565,298 -9.8

The New York Times had staved off a greater circulation decline through its strategy of moving to become a national newspaper in the late 1990s. However, this national strategy has not been successful in holding off the newspaper's decline in total circulation since 2001. More importantly, between 2006 and 2007, the New York Times' circulation decline has accelerated, which is evident in the steeper downward slope in the chart.

In fact, the NYT management's strategy may well have also accelerated the newspaper's circulation decline in its home market, which is evident in the steeper decline seen in the chart above, as the publishers and editors (the newspaper's management) have effectively chosen to ignore crafting a more successful product for its home market in favor of chasing higher circulation in the national market.

These problems are compounded by the New York Times' management's longstanding leftist tilt in the newspaper's news and editorial coverage, which effectively sabotages the newspaper's ability to successfully reach a wider, more politically diverse, audience by limiting the newspaper's attractiveness to consumers in that bigger market.

The New York Times' circulation decline is not limited to its weekday editions. The same trend of decline is evident even in the newspaper's larger Sunday circulation data. The chart below shows the trend in the New York Times' circulation since 1993:

New York Times' Sunday Circulation, 1993 through 2007

And for good measure, here's our table showing the data underlying the trends shown in the New York Times Sunday circulation chart:

New York Times Average Sunday Circulation, 1993 through 2007
Year Sunday Circulation Sunday Percentage of Total Circulation in NYC Sunday Circulation Within NYC Market Sunday Circulation Outside NYC Market Percentage Decline of Total Sunday Circulation
1993 1,783,900 63 1,123,857 660,043 0.0
1994 1,742,200 63 1,097,586 644,614 -2.3
1995 1,720,300 60 1,032,180 688,120 -3.6
1996 1,701,800 60 1,021,080 680,720 -4.6
1997 1,651,400 59 974,326 677,074 -7.4
1998 1,638,900 58 950,562 688,338 -8.1
1999 1,671,200 56 935,872 735,328 -6.3
2000 1,686,700 55 927,685 759,015 -5.4
2001 1,659,900 53 879,747 780,153 -7.0
2002 1,682,100 51 857,871 824,229 -5.7
2003 1,682,100 49 824,229 857,871 -5.7
2004 1,669,700 47 784,759 884,941 -6.4
2005 1,684,700 44 741,268 943,432 -5.6
2006 1,637,700 44 720,588 917,112 -8.2
2007 1,529,700 42 642,474 887,226 -14.2

The declines documented above reflect a worsening business situation for the New York Times, as lower circulation figures point to lower revenues realized through advertising and subscriptions. While the New York Times is now moving to grow its online presence and corresponding advertising revenues, online ads generate far less revenue than do traditional advertisements, which strains the company's financial performance.

This distress is evident in the newspaper's stock price, which we've shown from January 1998 through March 2008 (to date), in the chart below (via Yahoo! Finance):

New York Times' Stock Price, January 1993 through March 2008

The price of the New York Times' Company stock grew as the newspaper transitioned to become a national newspaper up until 2001, reflecting the peak of the newspaper's success with this strategy in holding off greater declines. However, since then, the company's stock price has dropped with its declining fortunes.

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