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Newspapers Eat Their Own in Bay Area

In "The Battle for Bay Area Readers," The New York Times has allegedly fired the latest significant shot.

The Times announced Friday that it has added 1,100 subscribers in the region since launching its San Francisco Bay Edition in September.

"Single-copy sales are up too," senior Times executive Jim Schachter said Thursday. "We're delighted at the reception we're getting from Bay Area readers for the pages that Felicity Barringer is editing, and for our Bay Area blog," he said.

The modest edition is actually an additional two pages each of Bay Area news running in the Friday and Sunday editions of the paper. Before the section hit the streets, The Times had 40,080 daily subscribers in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland market and 57,514 on Sundays.

Also looking to cash in on a region that houses notoriously favorable readership demographics, The Wall Street Journal launched its own Bay Area edition in November. Its edition also includes extra pages filled with area news and runs each Thursday.

The Journal has not released updated circulation figures as of yet from the region since it started printing the section, but stay tuned.

The Journal's weekday circulation in the San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland media market is a robust 92,000.

Both papers have also expanded their coverage of the Bay Area on their websites, here and here.

The San Francisco market boasts a median household income of more than $154,000, which makes it the most affluent potential newspaper audience in California.

Now The Bad News

The biggest casualty of this old-fashioned newspaper war between the two daily giants would seem to be the region's hometown daily paper, The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle has been steadily losing readers, and last year saw its circulation drop a staggering 25.8 percent -- to 251,782 -- over a six-month period ending in September 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The area's second-biggest paper, The San Jose Mercury News, saw its weekday circulation drop 10 percent last year to 200,258, while its Sunday circulation dropped 5.6 percent to 225,987.

There was a tiny bit of good news in the region if you looked hard for it, though.

The Oakland Tribune actually saw a 5.6 percent jump on Sundays to 91,691, and a minuscule jump in the daily of 294 to 92,794.

Even if some old Chronicle and Mercury News readers are finding their way to The Times and Journal, the news for the print industry overall in the region is still bleak -- mirroring newspapers' struggles elsewhere in the nation.

Assuming the The Wall Street Journal announces readership gains somewhere in line with The Times thanks to its localized coverage, it would still seem to leave tens of thousands of Bay Area daily newspaper readers of only two years ago unaccounted for.

If at least some of these readers don't come back to newspapers, this would just be the latest case of starving daily newspapers trying to feed off of an ever-shrinking pie of readers.

It's only a matter of time before they all starve to death.