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Civic Skinny

The Register’s circulation drops — yet again.

12/9/2015

Circulation of The Des Moines Register continues to fall in both the metro area and the state at large. An increase in the numbers of people buying the digital edition doesn’t come close to offsetting the precipitous drop in subscribers to the print edition.

Statewide, circulation of the print and digital editions of the Sunday Register averaged 137,083 in the quarter ended Sept. 30, according to unaudited figures from the Alliance for Audited Media. That’s down 3.1 percent from the 141,548 of a year earlier, and it’s down 33 percent from the 205,662 of five years earlier.

Print and digital circulation of the Monday-to-Friday Register averaged 82,371 in the latest quarter, down 2.5 percent from the 84,530 of a year earlier and down 24.4 percent from the 109,095 of five years ago.

While digital circulation is growing, it remains a small fraction of overall circulation. In the latest quarter, only about 7,500 of the 137,000 Sunday subscribers were digital-only buyers, while slightly more than 11,000 of the 82,000 Monday-Friday subscribers were digital-only buyers. And of the digital subscribers, around three-quarters buy a limited service that doesn’t carry the full run of advertising.

But digital circulation is a mixed blessing. While it helps circulation revenue, it isn’t a big producer of ad revenue. Readers don’t linger on digital devices, and they tend to find ads in digital newspapers annoying and often spend their time counting the seconds until the ad disappears rather than reading the ad for content and bargains.

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The average digital reader spends a bit more than four-and-a-half minutes reading the New York Times online, and that’s higher than the time spent reading any of the other 25 largest papers in the country, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Most online visitors are ‘flybys,’ ” the research center says.

The Register is owned by Gannett Co., Inc., which doesn’t break out figures for its 90 or so individual U.S. newspapers. But the company as a whole reported a drop of $66.1 million, or 8.6 percent, in its third-quarter revenue from a year earlier. After dealing with accounting changes and one-time items, the drop was $33.9 million, or 4.5 percent, the company said. Cash flow dropped $5.9 million, or 5.7 percent, to $97 million in the quarter.

Neither Gov. Terry Branstad nor Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds appears to know the title of the Branstad biography that will be handed out at the $50-a-plate dinner next Monday evening at the Fairgrounds. Separate press releases from the two officials refer to the book as “America’s Longest-Serving Governor: The Terry Branstad Story.” The book jacket, visible in each press release, calls it “Iowa’s Record Setting Governor. The Terry Branstad Story.” Some Branstad pals, including Democrat Bill Knapp, raised about $25,000 to have the book published.

Neither Gov. Terry Branstad nor Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds appears to know the title of the Branstad biography that will be handed out at the $50-a-plate dinner next Monday evening at the Fairgrounds. Separate press releases from the two officials refer to the book as “America’s Longest-Serving Governor: The Terry Branstad Story.” The book jacket, visible in each press release, calls it “Iowa’s Record Setting Governor. The Terry Branstad Story.” Some Branstad pals, including Democrat Bill Knapp, raised about $25,000 to have the book published.

Nationwide, newspaper revenue — print and digital — has dropped by 50 percent in the past seven years.

In the metro area — which the Register defines as Polk, Dallas, Story and Warren counties, Sunday circulation averaged 73,262 in the latest quarter. That’s down 7.4 percent from the 79,154 of a year ago and down 36.2 percent — more than a third — from the 114,900 of five years ago. The Monday-Friday numbers for the metro area are 44,422, down 6.2 percent from the 47,372 of a year ago and down 30.8 percent from the 68,541 of five years ago.

At the same time, the number of households in all four counties has increased. Polk County’s population has increased 30,000 in the past five years. Dallas is up 11,000, Story 5,000 and Warren has stayed about even, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

It’s unclear whether Register ad sales people are aware of their circulation figures. They talk in terms of “audience” and “reach,” but not paid numbers. Asked about circulation, an ad sales person said, “We’re holding our own.” ….

Nonfarm employment in Iowa in October averaged 1,597,800, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. That’s up about 100,000 from when Terry Branstad took office in his second-go-round nearly five years ago. At the time, he promised to “create” 200,000 jobs in five years. Time is running out.

Unless you count the way the Branstad administration counts. “We just went over 200,000 jobs created since the beginning of the Branstad administration,” Beth Townsend, the head of Iowa Workforce Development, said the other day, according to Radio Iowa. She put the number at 206,000.

But the governor’s people don’t use total employment numbers. They count jobs that businesses create, but they don’t count jobs lost to layoffs and closings and companies moving out of state. It’s like posting the baseball standings with just the wins column.

In fact, Iowa’s rate of growth in jobs trails that of the nation. “Iowa’s percent of U.S. employment…is at its lowest level since September, 2008,” the Legislative Services Agency says. …

Ruth Cooperrider, the little-known but pretty powerful state ombudsman and the first woman to hold that job since it was created in 1972, is retiring, and the state is seeking applicants. The ombudsman oversees a staff of 14 that look into “complaints against state and local-government agencies and officials.” Last  year it dealt with 2,782 complaints.

“I believe this office delivers a lot for the small staff and budget we have,” she told Cityview.  “Much of the work is done informally, behind the scenes without public fanfare, but we have also been out front on some significant systemic issues, to push for improvements in government practices in procedures and to educate citizens and government officials about them.” She adds: “I have fought hard to ensure our office has access to government information to do our investigative work, the most recent being our access to closed session records of government bodies.”

Cooperrider joined the staff as legal counsel in 1990, became deputy ombudsman in 1997 and ombudsman in 2010. She earned around $145,000 last year. She’ll leave at the end of this month and has “no plans to take on another job, legal or otherwise.”

Among other things, Cooperrider has been a member of the Iowa Energy’s Spark Plugs Dance Team. CV

 

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