You can’t argue with the fact that local newspaper circulation has plummeted since Denver’s dailies merged business operations in 2001. The only question is by how much.

Back in 2000, the year before the papers entered into a Joint Operating Agreement, the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News claimed daily circulations of 420,033 and 426,465, respectively. Those figures have steadily declined ever since. Last week, the Post reported that the papers’ circulations had dropped to 275,292 for the Post and 275,136 for the News.

That’s bad, but according to the Denver Business Journal, it’s even worse. This week’s edition puts the Post‘s daily circulation at 236,417 and 247,323 for the News.

What accounts for the difference? In an email, Journal editor Neil Westergaard explains:

We throw out the promotional copies, such as so-called “sponsored copies” where an advertiser buys a zip code or multiple zip codes and everybody in the zip code receives a copy, even current subscribers. The Audit Bureau of Circulations recently relaxed the rules to let papers count such sales as paid circulation. We don’t believe (and privately the DNA executives agree) that they represent truly paid subscriptions. They’re things like free copies they sell to hotels, Newspaper in Education programs, and stuff like that.

If you track the audits since the JOA, the number of these non-subscriber — but not true single copy — sales have risen steadily.

Daniel Brogan
Daniel Brogan
Daniel Brogan is the founder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of 5280 Publishing, Inc.