Some Good News for Philadelphia Newspapers: Daily Circulation is Up [Updated]

But there are still signs of weakness at Interstate General Media.

We told you yesterday that Interstate General Media—the company that owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and—was on the verge of profitability for the first time in years. (Assuming the owners don’t blow the company’s money suing each other.) Now we know why: Weekday circulation for the combined newspaper is up significantly since last year, a potentially huge reversal after years of decline.

circThe portion of the report we examined is shown in a screenshot at left. According to numbers released Thursday by the Alliance for Audited Media, the Inquirer and Daily News had a combined weekday circulation of 310,002 in September—up 4.6 percent from the weekday circulation of 296,427 a year ago. Circulation was up by around  10,000 issues a day every single weekday, and on Saturday (traditionally a low readership day) the growth was even more impressive: Growth from 196,227 a year ago to 233,249 this year,  an 18.9 percent rise. We haven’t heard back from the folks at IGM yet, but we’re guessing that may be due to the Daily News returning to Saturday publication—a reversal of the failed decision to replace the Saturday paper with a weekend sports magazine.

It’s not all good news in the circulation numbers, however.

Sunday circulation at the Inquirer—by far the biggest readership day of the week—declined slightly, from 468,559 a year ago to 465,835 this year, a drop of less than 1 percent.

More troubling—but also more difficult to for outsiders to determine—is the status of the Daily News. For several years now, its circulation has counted as part of the Inquirer’s, with the paper labeled “an edition” of the Inky. That means their circulation numbers are largely lumped together in AAM’s reports. According to the official report from AAM, the Inquirer’s “branded editions” had an average Monday-through-Friday daily circulation of 51,885 in September. If that number includes or is the entirety of the Daily News circulation, that would be a steep drop from September 2012, when the Daily News had a circulation of  59,474.

We’ve reached out to IGM to see if our interpretation of those numbers is correct, among other questions. How was the growth achieved by the new ownership group? And if things really are turning a corner like this, why the heck can’t everybody just be happy and get along?

[Update 1:38 pm] With some Twitter prompting from former Philly.commer Daniel Victor—now at the New York Times—it appears we’ve found one big source of the circulation growth: Digital editions of the newspapers.

In September 2012, the papers had a combined digital circulation—the PDF-like “replica editions” as well as their own “non-replica” apps—of  43,224. (Broken down, replica digital editions had a circulation of 25,572, while non-replica digital editions had a circulation of 17,652.) In today’s report, though, those replica and non-replica Monday-through-Friday numbers had grown (probably aided by the new paywalled newspaper websites for the Daily News and Inquirer) to 35,342 and 49,413, respectively, for a total digital weekday circulation of 84,765,  nearly doubling last year’s number. There’s your circulation growth: It’s arriving digitally.

[Update 2:32 pm] Just to make clear how difficult it can be to plow through all these numbers, the Poynter Institute has a piece about how it’s increasingly difficult to understand newspaper circulation these days.  The net effect? The newspaper industry—which is all about shining a bright light in dark places—seems increasingly less transparent to cover.