As ProJo circulation continues to dip, doubts about its paywall

Continuing a long-term trend, the Providence Journal's average daily circulation has dipped from 90,085 to 83,733 over the last year, while its Sunday circulation has dropped from 129,024 to 117,784, according to new third-quarter data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The declines, a 7 percent dip for daily circulation and a nearly 9 percent drop for Sunday circulation, come seven months after the Journal erected a "paywall" on its web site.

The aim of the paywall: drive customers used to getting free online news back to the more profitable print product - halting, or at least slowing, the decline in print circulation.

The early returns are not good, with circulation declines actually accelerating a bit since the paywall went up.

The circulation trouble and the ProJo's continuing economic strife - the paper recently bought out 11 employees and is preparing to cut roughly 16 more jobs next month through buyouts and layoffs - comes amid a period of relative stability for its parent company, Dallas-based A.H. Belo.

Yesterday, the company reported a modest 1 percent drop in overall revenue for the third quarter, compared to a year ago.

A.H. Belo spun off from the larger Belo Corporation in 2008, creating a standalone, newspaper-focused firm. It also owns The Dallas Morning News and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California.

Robert Decherd, CEO of A.H. Belo, said in a press release that the 1 percent "rate of decline is the lowest since our spin-off from Belo Corp. in 2008 and was driven by advertising revenue performance at The Dallas Morning News and increased printing and distribution revenues in Providence and Riverside."

A.H. Belo did not break down advertising and marketing revenue newspaper-by-newspaper in its third-quarter filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But it did say, in its press release, that the Journal suffered steeper advertising and marketing revenue declines than either the Morning News or Press-Enterprise.

The overall drop in advertising and marketing revenue, company-wide, was 5 percent. Printing and distribution revenue for the company jumped 25 percent overall, powered in part by new outside contracts at the Journal's printing facilities.

The recent round of 11 buyouts helped the Journal trim costs. But management says it needs to cut $1.2 million more. The Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents editorial and advertising staff, hoped to negotiate concessions to get at least part way to that target. But after a poor revenue report in October, the company called off talks and indicated it would proceed with job cuts next month.

The paper will offer buyouts again. But if it doesn't shed the estimated 16 positions required to reach  the $1.2 million goal, it will begin layoffs. Cuts would be made by seniority, shedding more young talent from a paper that has lost several young reporters in recent years.



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