Back in the day, the Sunday newspaper was the proverbial hearth around which families spent their morning pulling the paper apart, section by section and enjoying the Sunday newspaper magazine, comics or oversized travel and entertainment sections. As the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report shows, newspaper circulation is down with Sunday—once a cash cow for publishers—taking a major beating. The iconic Sunday New York Times, the fuel of many a relaxing morning saw its Sunday circulation drop 2.6% for the six months ending September 2009. The weekday/Saturday New York Times was down a tad over 7%, but for the most part weekday newspapers are competing with cybernews providers. Sunday newspapers compete with…good question.
Actually Sunday newspapers compete with life in today’s world. Most major European newspapers have long given up on their Sunday editions (some because of distribution issues) as the day of rest has become the day of making up for lost time. The same is true here in the U.S. and newspapers have tried gimmicks (like product bundling) and promos (free subscription trials) to curb the steady decrease in Sunday circ, but my Sunday newspaper more resembles the local PennySaver than journalistic comfort food.
Beyond lifestyle changes, the Sunday newspaper has been doomed for a while. Never known for its news oomph (early deadlines, skeletal weekend staffs), the Sunday paper was once the home for big feature stories, special reports and a slick color magazine insert. With staff reductions, competition from other media (read: webzines) and rising costs, those showcase elements are all but disappeared. At this point, the only distinctive feature of a Sunday newspaper is its load of Free Standing Insert ads (which are themselves dwindling) and, if you live on the east coast, the lack of late sports scores.
The right move is to nuke the Sunday paper which will be a tough one to swallow but makes financial sense. Heck, I’d take all the Sunday content and bundle it into a TV show (web and on air) that reads like a local “60 Minutes” or CBS’ “Sunday Morning.” An act of heresy? Perhaps. But the times are a changin’, so it’s about time for newspapers to change with them.