The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (JNPEA) has released figures showing that total daily newspaper circulation in 2016 (as of October) was 43,276,147 copies, down by 970,000 from the previous year. Circulation in all regions of Japan, except Okinawa, has been sliding for 12 consecutive years.
Circulation data compiled by the Japan Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) also shows that newspaper circulation in November 2016 was 37,893,519 copies, 990,000 copies less than the same month in the previous year. What is noteworthy about the ABC figures is that the three major newspapers accounted for 80% of the overall reduction – 360,000 copies for Yomiuri Shimbun, 270,000 copies for Asahi Shimbun, and 170,000 copies for Mainichi Shimbun. Mainichi, in particular, whose circulation has declined relatively slowly in recent years, is shown to have suffered a sharp fall.
The circulation of newspapers published by the JNPEA members has continued to slide after peaking in 1997 at 53,760,000 copies. By 2016, circulation had dropped by some 20% from the peak over 19 years. Since people in their 60s or older constitute the mainstay of newspaper readers, circulation will inevitably drop even faster in the next 10 years.
The ABC figure for Asahi’s circulation as of November 2016 is 6.35 million copies, representing a drop of 1.16 million in the three years from August 2014, when it was found to have published false reports on the comfort women issue.
However, an anonymous letter circulating in the company claims that the actual circulation is 4.8 million copies, discounting the number of excess copies delivery agents are forced to buy. This letter comes with a simulation that by 2020, circulation may drop to 2 million.
According to ABC, Yomiuri’s circulation as of November 2016 was 9 million copies when this figure was 10 million in November 2013. This means that circulation dropped by 1 million copies in a span of three years.
The ABC circulation figure for Mainichi is 3.02 million copies, putting it on the brink of dipping below the 3 million line. Its circulation declined by 300,000 copies in the past three years and the reduction in the past year accounted for around 60% of the overall decline.
Nikkei was able to maintain a circulation of 2.72 million copies, unchanged from the same month in the previous year, and the decline in its circulation in the past three years was a mere 30,000 copies. Sankei Shimbun also maintained its circulation of 1.65 million copies, unchanged from the same month last year. It suffered a reduction of only 40,000 copies in the past three years.
Meanwhile, for the regional papers, Hokkaido Shimbun lost 70,000 readers in the past three years; Kahoku Shimbun gained 8,000 readers; while Nishinippon Shimbun’s circulation was down by 70,000 copies. The rate of decline has been slower than Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri.
A big issue for the newspapers is moving to paid subscriptions of their online versions in light of the decline in hardcopy readership. However, all of them, except Nikkei, are fighting an uphill battle because of the proliferation of free news on the Internet. Subscriptions to Nikkei’s digital version have reached 500,000 (as of January 2017), followed by Asahi with only 270,000 subscribers. Circulation figures for the online versions of Yomiuri and Mainichi, and the digital Sankei, which started in December 2016, have not been made public. Their future does not appear to be rosy. (Abridged)