Patterico's Pontifications


Circulation Trickery?

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 12:07 pm

Instapundit reports on an Editor and Publisher article that I first saw mentioned here by commenter Ken Hoover. It reports on irregularities in newspaper circulation numbers.

Instapundit says that, after he cancelled his newspaper,

They sent a guy to my house to offer me a free subscription. I said no, but last week they just started delivering copies again anyway. I thought it was just a mistake by our carrier, but now I wonder if it wasn’t a circulation-boosting strategy . . . .

He’s not the only one this has happened to. The L.A. Times appears to be giving people free newspapers.

A colleague has recently complained to me that he keeps getting “this trash” (the L.A. Times) thrown on his driveway, though he doesn’t subscribe.

Also, we have recently noticed that, when we bring our copy of the L.A. Times inside in the morning, there is another copy on our neighbor’s doorstep. At first, we figured he had recently started subscribing. But each day when we return home from work, he has put it on our doorstep, apparently assuming that it’s ours.

Is anyone else being force-fed the L.A. Times?

UPDATE: I originally thought Instapundit’s quote specifically referred to the L.A. Times, but a commenter says he doesn’t think so. Upon reflection, he’s probably right.

19 Responses to “Circulation Trickery?”

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  5. I might be wrong, but I think Instapundit was talking about his having cancelled a Knoxville paper.

    vince cox (0ab8c9)

  6. For anyone who has this problem with any major metro daily, contact the Audit Bureau of Circulation in Shaumberg Il. Let them know the name of your newspaper and the details of what they have done. The ABC audits and verifies the paid circulation data of major metro newspapers. Reporting periods are for 6 monthe periods ending March 31 and Sept 30 (fas-fax) plus an annual audit. Fas-fax are unaudited figures take from a random weekday usually in the last week of March and September and a Sunday near the end of these months. This why there is a flurry of promotion activity and promotional offers near the end of these months.

    Here is the e-mail contact address of ABC. Also notify the paper by e-mail.

    Corky Boyd (4215fa)

  7. I pay to get the L.A. Times on weekends only. However, about once or twice a week I’ll get a copy of L.A. Times delivered on a weekday, despite my weekend-only subscription.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the L.A. Times was cooking the circulation numbers and using them to justify advertising prices. If anyone holds the Times’ parent company’s stock (Tribune Company, stock ticker TRB), it might be wise to sell it before any scandal-induced crash.

    Trained Auditor (4d2256)

  8. The Seattle Times did this same thing a few years ago. We were taking only the Sunday paper when one of their reps called to see if we would take the daily paper for free. Certainly it is to build circulation numbers to pump up advertising rates. It also builds circulation because not everyone quits taking the paper when the “trial” period is over.

    Dave (4c1557)

  9. And let’s not talk about the incessant phone calls.

    Kevin Murphy (9982dd)

  10. Here is the link to the press release the LA Times put out when it announced its circulation figues in Sept. 04. When they say they have 2.4 million weekday readers, they are assuming between 2 and 3 people per household read the paper. That’s common in the newspaper industry.

    Ken Hoover (a52587)

  11. Hmm. I own a small business. Part of my marketing strategy involves giving something away for free– to build a customer base by making people aware that my company exists; to participate in the great cycle of sowing and reaping, which means that when you choose to freely give something of value to someone who needs it (or might appreciate it), you can expect good things to come your way; and to build my company’s reputation by allowing people to see that our product is the best thing out there. Mrs. Field modeled this by standing on corners with trays of cookies that she gave away to anyone who wanted one.

    So, I don’t really feel bent out of shape that the paper gives away free samples. If they are only doing this to artificially boost their numbers, that’s one thing, but why assume that’s the only reason? If giving away a newspaper is proof of their perfidiousness, then doesn’t that blunt the edge of genuine critique of sloppy or biased reportage, which is much more serious?

    Smallish Bees (5ddb65)

  12. I hadn’t considered this before, but last year I started receiving the LA Times at home. This came after an occasional phone call offering very low-cost subscriptions. I called to cancel–even though I hadn’t ordered it–because I didn’t want to have to argue about billings that would likely follow. At the time, I figured maybe a delivery man found a way to increase his own subscription rate. This post gives me a new direction of thought!

    Rick Wahler (50fd8d)

  13. Smallish Bees

    Free offers are not the issue, they are a perfectly legitimate marketing technique. However if somone turns down a free offer, it shouldn’t be delivered and it can’t be counted as paid circulation. Newpapers that pile up in front of your house when you haven’t ordered it or have refused it are a tipoff to potential burglars that your home is unoccupied.

    Used to be newspapers would keep subscriptions going a day or two longer when you called in a vacation stop to keep their numbers up. They are a lot more responsive now because of the libility problem.

    Times Mirror has had major scandals in over-reporting circulation numbers in Long Island (Newsday) and Chicago (Tribune). Heads rolled there. But it looks like corporate habits are hard to break. ABC is on their case. There are reports that other newpaper chains are being questioned about fraudulent circulation numbers by federal authorities.

    The LA Times has had a major drop in circulation in the past year, far more than the national average. Many attribute it to their pig-headed stance of alienating a major segment of their audience by highly partisan reporting and non-coverage events that might support conservatives.

    Corky Boyd
    Sanibel FL

    Corky Boyd (4215fa)

  14. Oops,

    Two errors in my prior post. First, it’s not Times Mirror that owns the LA Times and Newsday, it’s the Tribune Co. Also, the papaer in Chicago with the circulation problems was the Sun Times, not owned or affiliated with the Tribune Company.


    Corky Boyd
    Sanibel FL

    Corky Boyd (4215fa)

  15. You guys don’t get it. If there’s any plausible reason to give you a paper, they will. Then a month later some pathetic dude will show up at your door asking for payment for the last month’s paper deliveries.

    Every time someone calls me asking me to subscribe, I tell them I can’t read. Then he tells me about the benefits of their photos and extensive Sports section.

    Ladainian (91b3b2)

  16. My wife discovered an unasked for paper this morning when going out for a run. Normally I don’t mind, but my neighbor had trouble with a ‘free’ paper tossed onto his drive before he cleared it of snow. That paper destroyed his blower and his interest in the local rag.

    Todd G. (94238b)

  17. This is an amusing post. As a reporter at one of the Times’ community papers, what I get out in the community is that they want to get the News-Press (because it’s all Glendale and Foothills news), but can’t subscribe because it comes packaged inside the L.A. Times and they can’t stand the L.A. Times. (And if I get fired for this comment, I’ll let you all know.)

    darleene (0ce265)

  18. My local paper (The San Diego Union) now offers (but does not advertise) Th-Fri-Sat-Sun delivery for the price of “just Sunday”.

    I figured that this was because those are the days that they pack the paper with extra advertising sections. Never occurred to me that they could be padding subscription numbers, too.

    Marshall Clow (19f225)

  19. I’ve been getting the Daily News for free for quite a while now. When I was offered a free subscription, I was told, up front, that it was to boost circulation — that they gained more in the increase in ad revenues than they would from my subscription payment.

    I respect that honesty.

    Karl Lembke (ff486c)

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