Friday, October 26, 2007

Out of print

Of the many little things I miss about life in the UK, one of the most difficult to come to terms with has been newspapers. Not that I expect to find the Sunday Post on sale at my corner store (the fact I've found a pub willing to show Scottish football matches is miracle enough), but it would be nice, on occasion, to get my hands on a daily with a horizon broader than the one I can see with my own eyes.

Unfortunately, the only newspaper for sale in almost every small store near my house is the local San Francisco Chronicle. Why is it that in a country with around 1,500 different daily newspapers, I am so often offered a choice of just one?

The answer is that the US newspaper market is very localised. The best-selling USA Today is the only truly national title, and its daily circulation of 2.5 million is around 500,000 copies less than that of Britain's biggest tabloid, The Sun.

Indeed, just four US newspapers manage an average circulation of over a million (the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times being the others), which is just one more than the UK's total (the aforementioned Sun, the similarly downmarket Daily Mirror, and the beneath-contempt Daily Mail). This is despite the fact that Britain has a population about a fifth of the size of the States. However, if you lower the circulation threshold to the 200,000-copy mark, US titles outnumber those in the UK by 64 to 12, which is a ratio more in line with what you might expect. (My circulation figures came from here and the Audit Bureau of Circulations.)

But this still doesn't explain why most shops here in San Francisco sell just one or, occasionally, two titles (the Chronicle's most common companion on the shelves being, oddly, the New York Times, which hails from a city 2,500 miles away). The store pictured above, which offers a choice of three, is a treasured find indeed. But where are the Bay Area's San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune? Or the LA Times, Washington Post or even USA Today?

All this has been a rude culture shock for me after luxuriating in London's daily deluge of newsprint for many years. Corner shops there typically stock more than 10 national titles, in addition to a few local rags (such as the London-wide Evening Standard) and some ethnically focused journals (the Voice or Jewish Chronicle). Also, they almost always throw in a few papers from Ireland, Scotland or non-English speaking countries, perhaps just to show off.

Thankfully, it turns out that there is a very good newsagent just a few blocks from my new house. It's tiny, but has the widest selection of newsprint I've seen since arriving in the US over six months ago. It even has copies of the UK Guardian for sale, albeit a day or two late, and for a rather higher price than I'm used to paying.

Sigh. If only the publishers could invent some electronic version of their newspapers I could read for free via the internet. Eh? Oh...


Anonymous said...

And U.S. newspapers are willingly getting even more provincial, according to the NY Times:

As the newspaper industry bemoans falling circulation, major papers around the country have a surprising attitude toward a lot of potential readers: Don't bother.

The big American newspapers sell about 10 percent fewer copies than they did in 2000, and while the migration of readers to the Web is usually blamed for that decline, much of it has been intentional. Driven by marketing and delivery costs and pressure from advertisers, many papers have decided certain readers are not worth the expense involved in finding, serving and keeping them.

Here's the entire story. Sorry about the unwieldy web address:

Luiza said...

You miss the Independent on Sunday. Ain't that the truth!