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updated 4/26/2010 10:51:29 AM ET 2010-04-26T14:51:29

Circulation dropped at U.S. newspapers.

Figures released Monday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show average weekday circulation fell 8.7 percent in the six months that ended March 31, compared with the same period a year earlier.

Sunday circulation fell 6.5 percent.

Neither decline was as steep as the comparable one documented in the last reporting period. From April through September of last year, average weekday circulation dropped 10.6 percent and Sunday circulation fell 7.5 percent.

Even so, the top 25 newspapers in the country showed some huge losses.

The San Diego Union-Tribune's weekday circulation dropped nearly 23 percent from the year before to 241,330.

At The Washington Post, average circulation fell 13.1 percent during the week to 578,482 and 8.2 percent to 797,679 on Sunday.

USA Today lost 13.6 percent of its circulation and averaged 1.83 million. That extended a slump that began with a slowdown in travel during the recession, which trimmed sales where USA Today is especially popular, such as hotels and airports.

Wall Street Journal gains
USA Today's decline last year allowed The Wall Street Journal to surpass it as the newspaper with the biggest U.S. circulation. In Monday's report, the Journal once again posted the only gain in circulation among the top 25 newspapers that had comparable figures from a year ago. It grew its circulation 0.5 percent to 2.09 million. The Journal can count online readers because it charges them to read its website, while most newspapers can only count print subscriptions and newsstand sales.

The Journal is also looking to put itself further ahead of the No. 3 newspaper, The New York Times, which saw an 8.5 percent decline in weekday circulation during the most recent period and a 5.2 percent drop on Sundays. The Times' average circulation was 951,063 on weekdays and 1.38 million on Sundays.

The new figures came as the Journal launched a metro edition in the New York City region to compete more aggressively with the Times for local readers and advertisers. The first metro section ran 16 pages Monday with articles detailing a rat infestation on Manhattan's Upper East Side and the New York state budget crisis alongside advertising from Bloomingdale's and Macy's.

There are many reasons for the declines in newspaper circulation, including the rise of free news on the Web. Publishers also have sought to offset losses in advertising revenue by raising newsstand and subscription prices. And some newspapers have reduced delivery to unprofitable areas.

In a statement, Newspaper Association of America President John Sturm said that declining circulation does not offer a full picture of the industry's health.

He pointed to recent studies by Scarborough Research and Nielsen Online showing nearly 100 million adults still read a printed newspaper every day and that newspaper Web sites averaged more than 74 million unique visitors a month during the first quarter.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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