A year after “digital first” in NOLA and Alabama, deciphering Advance’s circulation figures

NOTE: Corrections below in underline and strike-through, making the distinction between digital non-replicas (smart phone and tablet apps) and digital replicas (PDFs).

The semi-annual figures compiled by industry group Alliance for Audited Media (previously the Audit Bureau of Circulations) were released today, for the six months ending Sept. 30, 2013, representing average circulation numbers. This represents the first full year of comparative numbers since “digital first” was implemented Oct. 1, 2012 at The Times-Picayune and Advance Publications’ Alabama newspapers – and the first full year of numbers since The Advocate launched its New Orleans edition.

As newspaper analyst Alan Mutter reported on his blog earlier this evening, the way newspapers now report their numbers (changes the AAM has sanctioned) make it nearly impossible to make historical, across-the-board comparisons. But some can be accurately made, and the way the numbers are now reported are insightful in their own way.

For example, the Picayune‘s Sunday print circulation has fallen another 10% year over year (from 145,608 in September 2012 to 130,881 in September 2013), but the newspaper is claiming a total average circulation that’s up about 12% – to 163,530 They accomplish this by counting smart phone and tablet apps PDF versions of the newspaper (referred to as “digital replicas” or “digital non-replicas” in industry parlance), which are available for free via the newspaper’s website (although that free availability is not widely promoted). The AAM report, however, doesn’t note that last year’s figure (listed on the Sept. 30, 2013 report for comparison purposes) is print-only, without any digital editions included.

Meanwhile, The Advocate reports flat to slightly increasing print circulation figures year-over-year (depending on the day of the week), but more substantive increases when “digital non-replica” circulation is included.

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