updated 10/10/2008 3:46:31 PM ET 2008-10-10T19:46:31

USA Today said Friday it will raise its newsstand price by 25 cents to $1 to offset rising newsprint costs.

The 33 percent increase could affect the nation’s highest-circulation newspaper more than price hikes affect the other two national newspapers, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, because USA Today is more dependent on single-copy sales. The cost of the Times went up 25 cents in August, while the Journal’s price rose 50 cents in July.

Even after the increase, USA Today’s newsstand price will be less than the $1.50 now charged for weekday editions of the Times and $2 for the Journal.

Neither home delivery rates nor distribution agreements with hotels will be affected by the newsstand price increase for Gannett Co.’s flagship newspaper, which takes effect on Dec. 8. One-third of USA Today’s sales are in hotel-guest copies.

Larry Lindquist, USA Today’s senior vice president for circulation, said newsprint costs have risen to a 12-year high and further increases are expected later in the year.

“We remain confident that the continued strong demand for USA Today from consumers, and our price relative to our competition, means that the marketplace will support this adjustment to our newsstand price,” Lindquist said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Rumors of the price hike at Gannett Co.’s flagship newspaper circulated earlier on a blog maintained by a former Gannett editor.

Newspapers across the country have been facing flat or declining circulation and plunging advertising revenue primarily because of the migration of readers to the Internet. A weakening economy has further driven down ad sales this year.

USA Today’s price increase could help the paper generate more revenue if circulation doesn’t drop drastically as a result. But it’s not likely to offset completely the losses it’s seeing in advertising. The latest figures available show that ad revenue declined 13.5 percent in August compared with the same month in 2007.

USA Today passed the Journal to become the top-selling paper in the United States in 1999. Current weekday circulation is 2.28 million, down slightly from a peak of 2.34 million in 2004, the same year the paper last increased its newsstand price, from 50 to 75 cents. USA Today has not seen circulation slip as much as other large dailies.

In fact, in the latest reports from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, USA Today was one of the few to post a slight gain — 0.27 percent in the six-month period ending March 30, compared with the same period a year earlier.

USA Today does not publish on weekends, but its average daily circulation exceeds that of any Sunday paper, which generally has higher sales than weekday papers.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the journalism think tank Poynter Institute, said many papers have been cutting back on newsprint use, in part because they have fewer ads to run. But Edmonds said newspaper price increases may be inevitable as advertising drops and papers find the cost of newsprint up 20 percent from a year ago.

Newsprint prices have been rising largely because most of it is produced in Canada, whose currency until recently had been rising against the U.S. dollar, Edmonds said.

The newsstand price increase “makes sense, but it puts the burden on the publishers to make sure there’s that much value in the paper,” he said.

Gannett shares rebounded in trading Friday from a 9.1 percent loss early in the day to a 5 percent drop, or 66 cents, to $12.61 by late afternoon.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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