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Good news and bad news in Denver Post circulation figures

Predictably, the Denver Post accentuated the positive in its analysis of its circulation figures just out from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, reporting that the broadsheet has retained 86 percent of former Rocky Mountain News customers in the six months since the Rocky closed. Some of the methods used to come up with this figure are debatable, but there's no doubt the Post has held onto far more Rocky readers than practically anyone expected -- me included. This accomplishment is especially impressive given the economic downturn in general and the tough times being experienced by newspapering as a whole.

Not that the all the news is sunny.

The Post concedes that its circulation has dipped 5 percent to 8 percent since the Rocky shut down but says three-quarters of the decline can be traced to the scaling back of distribution in outlying parts of the state plus the end of most giveaways to schools, hospitals, etc. (If you want a paper, kiddies and sickies, buy one -- at 75 cents, not 50 cents like in the old days.) But the annual figures collected by Editor & Publisher look worse. For instance, Sunday totals have declined 9.16 percent, to 495,485.

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As for weekdays, E&P puts the Post's Monday-through-Friday total at 340,949 but declines to list a percentage decline because of the competition with the Rocky during those days. However, the digits contained in an October 28, 2008 Westword blog provide an idea of how things have changed. Back then, the Post delivered 210,585 papers Monday-Thursday, with the Rocky adding 210,281 during the same period -- making for a sum of 420,866. Granted, about 14,000 of those subscriptions were duplicates (people who took both the Post and the Rocky). But even when those are excluded, that means approximately 65,000 fewer papers are coming off the presses now than there were at this time last year, representing around a 16 percent decline.

Oh yeah: Eight years ago, for the six-month period that ended September 30, 2001, the Monday through Thursday circulation of the Rocky was 309,938, while the Post's was 305,929 -- and the Post's Sunday circulation was 801,315, more than 305,000 copies more than today.

True, it's a different world now, and the Post seems to be weathering the storm unexpectedly well under reduced circumstances. However, almost all of the circulation fat has now been cut, leaving only lean -- which makes it more important than ever that those former Rocky subscribers stay loyal to a different brand.

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