Monday, October 29, 2001


In what appears to be a baldfaced (and boldfaced!) attempt to curry favor with his former employer, Matt Drudge wants us to know -- in this evening's screaming above-the-masthead headline:

Here' the truth: The journalistic embarrassment called the New York Post -- which retails for 25 measley cents, last time I checked -- has an audited circulation of 533,860. That's up 22 percent over for the year ending September 30, yes. But was it a gradual, carefully engineered increase of 22 percent over several months, or did the paper possibly show a huge, sudden spike in circulation since September 11? Matt doesn't say.

Nor does he make explicit what the Post's surging circulation is supposed to mean, although the implication is transparent enough: "Despite whatever preconceived notions you may be clinging to," Matt projects between the lines, "The Post is a great old New York institution, and people are finally coming around to noticing it in droves!"

What it could also mean, of course, is that the economy of New York City post-9/11 is in such ruins that fewer people can afford to shell out fifty cents for the New York Daily News, or 75 cents for the New York Times. For the newly-unemployed, two bits for a quick read on the trip to the Unemployment Office may well be all they can handle -- and still also afford Lipton's Cup-A-Soup for dinner.

In fact, let's put those numbers in perspective. Those "top newspapers" with "flat" circulations include The Wall Street Journal, (1,780,605, actually up 1.0 percent), the New York Times (1,109,371, actually up 1.1 percent.), and the New York Daily News (734,473, up a moderately healthy 4.6 percent). Turns out, all of the other New York City papers still whup the Post's 800-point hiney when it comes to audited circulation figures. The Times still outsells the Post better than 2-to-1. The Wall Street Journal outsells the Post by more than 3-to-1.

Granted the Post is making some headway in the circulation race with that other great New York workingman's paper, the Daily News. But consider, please, that the News is actually profitable and the Post is not. The Post has not been profitable in something like 30 years. The Post still exisits at all because Rupert Murdoch is determined to own a print journalism mouthpiece in New York, and he can afford to prop up the paper with the profits from Fox News while the Post remains awash in red ink -- literally and figuratively. (If the Daily News wanted to sell an extra 250,000 copies for the hell of it, they could also adopt a policy of bribing commuters with a lower cover price. Big deal.)

But the truth is, in comparing publishing statistics, the only thing that really matters is the number of ad pages and the rate charged per column inch. Such statistics may well be out there, somewhere, but Matt Drudge conveniently hasn't taken the trouble to research them, much less provide them to readers of the Drudge Report. It doesn't take a MacArthur Fellowship award winner to know that every other New York paper has much more desirable demographics, and therefore commands a premium rate, while the Post gets little more than the dregs.

In the early 1980s, I used to freelance for a typesetting shop that prepared newspaper display advertising artwork for the now-defunct Alexander's chain of department stores in the NYC metropolitan area. Famously -- or perhaps, apocryphally -- one of the Alexander's ad salesmen related to me this story -- which was surely, in turn, retold and embellished and claimed as original by all of the major advertisers in town. But from where I was sitting, the story was this:

The Post ad salesmen were putting pressure on the Alexander's ad reps to run more display advertising in their paper. In those days, "pressure" meant #10 envelopes envelopes containing everything from expensive theater or baseball tickets to generous sums of cash with non-sequential serial numbers. But no matter how many envelopes were surreptitiously slipped into their ad reps' hands, Alexander's maintained only a token presence in the Post for years and years.

When the advertising manager of the Post finally ran out of patience and demanded an explanation, the Alexander's rep explained: "Look, I'm sorry, but we really don't want the readers of the New York Post in our stores. Your readers are our shoplifters!")


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