The Inquirer was among a handful of large daily newspapers to buck the broad trend of circulation declines in the last year, according to a report yesterday from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The newspaper's average weekday paid circulation rose 0.6 percent, or 2,136 copies, to 352,593 for the one-year period ending March 31, the semiannual report shows. It was The Inquirer's first March-to-March circulation gain since 2004.
Two New York tabloids, the Post and Daily News, which have been locked in a newspaper war, posted bigger reader gains. So did the Indianapolis Star, where circulation rose 2.4 percent, or 6,128, to 261,405.
The only other big-city newspapers to show positive numbers in the last year were the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, both up 0.4 percent.
"We're doing all the commonsense things that hadn't been done before," said Brian P. Tierney, chief executive officer of Philadelphia Media Holdings L.L.C. He said the circulation gains were a "big deal" because the previous owner, Knight Ridder Inc., had forecast a 7 percent circulation decline for the year.
Philadelphia Media, a group of Philadelphia-area businesspeople and investors who bought The Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com in mid-2006, is spending $14 million this year on marketing and circulation promotion, Tierney said.
Though The Inquirer showed gains on weekdays, its biggest moneymaker, the Sunday edition, shed 2.5 percent of its circulation, or 17,295 subscribers. Circulation fell to 688,670. Tierney pointed out that the rate of circulation losses has slowed for the Sunday edition. According to the audit bureau figures, the Sunday edition lost 38,277 subscribers between March 2005 and March 2006. Tierney said he expected the Sunday edition to report a circulation gain in the next reporting period.
The Daily News' average weekday circulation fell 2.3 percent, or 2,641 subscribers, to 113,951 from 116,592 in the year. Philadelphia Media said this was a substantial improvement from March 2006, when the Daily News showed a circulation decline of 12,083.
John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc., a media-consulting firm, and a veteran newspaper analyst, said the gain in weekday circulation at The Inquirer "certainly doesn't mean the crisis is over in Philadelphia. . . . You can't draw any big conclusions from one reporting period. It's what happens over time that counts."
Morton said that the national circulation loss for newspapers was "slightly less steep" than it had been in the prior reporting period, and that it appeared that newspaper Web sites were drawing significant numbers of readers. But they still face the same problem: the loss of young readers.
Philadelphia Media says that its tracking of page views for Philly.com showed a 50 percent increase, to 30 million a month from 20 million in July 2006.
National newspapers reporting average weekday circulation gains were USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, according to data released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tabulates newspaper sales for advertisers.
But these were exceptions. Two of the biggest circulation losers among big-city papers were the Los Angeles Times, down 4.2 percent, and the Dallas Morning News, down 14.3 percent.
Circulation at the New York Times fell 1.9 percent, while the Washington Post saw a 3.5 percent drop. The Newark Star-Ledger lost 6.1 percent of its subscribers.