A sluggish economy, increased competition for readers and higher subscription prices combined to deal a double-digit blow to circulation at daily newspapers across the country, including the St. Petersburg Times.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations on Monday reported that the 379 daily papers it follows shed almost 11 percent in circulation as of Sept. 30. Sunday circulation of 562 papers was down 7.5 percent.
Four of the five biggest papers in the country lost circulation.
Some of the drop off was self-imposed. Many newspapers have aggressively hiked prices of single-copy and home-delivered papers in an effort to boost circulation revenue and focus on their core, loyal readers.
The St. Petersburg Times posted a 10.7 percent decline in average weekday circulation from last year, dropping to 240,147. Sunday circulation fell 5.2 percent to 370,050.
Paul Tash, Times chairman, CEO and editor, noted that more than half of that drop-off in daily circulation was tied to a decision to stop distributing some free papers during the week to Sunday-only subscribers and a "significant" scale-back in distributing other complimentary copies.
The Times was the only major paper statewide to show an increase in individually paid subscriptions for Sunday — 3,200.
"I'm glad that the numbers are either stable or growing in the most important categories for us, but they tell only part of our story," Tash said. "This report does not reflect the audience we have in our free daily (tbt*) or that we have on the Web."
The Times recently boosted production of its tbt* tabloid by 10,000, pushing it to a total of 80,000 copies available Monday-Thursday and 111,500 on Friday.
Because other top papers in Florida endured larger circulation declines, the Times widened its lead as the largest paper statewide both Sunday and daily.
One of the hardest-hit publications in Florida, and in the country, was the Miami Herald, with a daily circulation decline of 23.1 percent and Sunday drop of 14.6 percent. The Orlando Sentinel overtook the Herald as Florida's second-biggest daily paper despite a 12.2 percent decline.
The Tampa Tribune dropped 18.7 percent daily, to 152,568, and its Sunday circulation was down 2 percent, to 252,953.
Among the largest papers in the country, the Dallas Morning News faced among the steepest declines, down 19.3 percent in Sunday circulation and 22.2 percent daily. The San Francisco Chronicle was down 25.8 percent in daily circulation.
Of the top 25 papers, the only one to buck the circulation trend was the largest: the Wall Street Journal, which gained just less than 1 percent, bringing its industry-leading circulation to 2.02 million. Former No. 1 USA Today lost 17.2 percent for total paid circulation of 1.9 million.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8242. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.