The St. Petersburg Times extended its lead as Florida's biggest newspaper under a new industry standard for estimating circulation that was used for the first time Tuesday.
The Times ranked as the 13th largest Sunday newspaper in the country with average circulation totaling 429,048 for the six months ended March 31. Its daily circulation of 292,441 made it the 18th largest weekday paper. It was the only Florida paper to make the top 25 list for either Sunday or daily circulation.
The March report reflects new rules by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) that were more than two years in the making. The category that was commonly used to compare papers before — total paid circulation — no longer exists.
Instead, ABC is reporting a new number called total average circulation. That average number includes any purchased copies, digital editions, plus "branded" editions of any paper that may have a different name but are labeled to include the word "edition."
Because of the change, ABC has recommended not making any direct comparisons between a given paper's circulation in the March report and its prior audits. However, the method establishes a new baseline for print media to measure industry growth or contraction going forward.
Many papers, such as the San Jose Mercury News and Chicago Sun-Times, fared well under the new system by adding tens of thousands of branded papers to their overall circulation. Branded papers would include commuter, community or alternative language newspapers.
In Florida, the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune were the only two major metros to start with higher baseline circulation numbers for both daily and Sunday compared to March 2010 figures under the old system.
"We are very proud that the Times has continued to widen our lead as Tampa Bay's largest newspaper by over 166,000 copies on Sunday and as Florida's largest newspaper by over 141,000 copies," said Joe DeLuca, Tampa publisher and vice president for the Times. "For four consecutive reporting periods we have had significant growth in individually paid subscriptions, which our advertisers tell us is the most valuable audience for them to reach."
The new methodology did little to alter the hierarchy among the country's biggest papers. The Wall Street Journal remained the top daily, followed by USA Today.
After years of watching circulation declines, the newspaper industry's top trade group applauded a change that it says more accurately helps its members account for their overall audience.
"The new definitions and formats reflect changes in the way publishers market their newspapers to readers, allowing newspaper companies to more accurately portray the powerful audiences they deliver across a multitude of print, digital and mobile platforms," John Sturm, president of the Newspaper Association of America, said in a statement.
Reflecting the rapid rise of the Internet, the March report also measures total print readership over a seven-day period and online readership over a 30-day period. By that measure, three of Florida's largest papers were very close, with the St. Petersburg Times' print and online audience of 1.3 million just edging out the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald.