America’s original alternative weekly is no longer its largest.
The Village Voice, the storied and scrappy mainstay of downtown Manhattan, fell to No. 2 in alt-weekly circulation last year, according to a new report released by the Pew Research Center. The struggling publication saw its circulation drop by 14.8 percent in 2012 to 157,050, putting it just below the 160,128 reported by LA Weekly, which is now the most widely circulated alt weekly in the country.
In a way it’s a bittersweet victory for LA Weekly, as both papers are owned by the same company: Voice Media Group. LA Weekly saw no circulation change from the prior year, according to the report. Pew compiled the circulation numbers from publishing statements made to the Alliance for Audited Media. They were reported Monday as part of Pew’s annual “State of the News Media” report.
The Village Voice has had a rough couple of years, including a flurry of layoffs and staff changes, as well as changes in ownership. In 2005, the Phoenix-based media company New Times merged with Village Voice Media (VVM), creating a colossal conglomerate that owned the Voice along with a stable of alt weeklies, including LA Weekly. Last year, VVM was bought out by Voice Media Group, a new company formed by three VVM executives: Scott Tobias, Christine Brennan and Jeff Mars. The move was made in part as a way of allowing the Voice and its sister papers to shed Backpage.com, the controversial classified website that has been embroiled in lawsuits over allegedly enabling the forced prostitution of young women and girls.
Shortly before the sale, the Voice’s editor-in-chief, Tony Ortega, and its music editor, Maura Johnston, both announced that they were resigning. And since the sale, masthead changes have continued. Will Bourne, a veteran financial journalist who had previously worked for Fast Company, was named the new editor-in-chief in November, and Jessica Lustig, a former senior editor for Time Out New York, was named deputy editor in January.
If the Voice’s struggles serve as a symbol of the embattled alt-weekly sector, at least it is not alone. Pew’s report showed circulation declines almost across the board for alt weeklies, although the Voice’s drop was particularly steep. Among the country’s top 20 alt weeklies, its decline was topped only by Portland’s Willamette Week (15.2 percent), the San Diego Reader (18.3 percent) and the Boston Phoenix (28.5 percent). The 47-year-old Phoenix, the fourth largest alt-weekly in the country, abruptly shut down last week after an unsuccessful transition from a tabloid-sized newspaper to a glossy magazine.
“For the nation’s alternative weekly newspapers, 2012 proved to be another year of contraction and churn as the industry sought new ways to build better revenue models,” Pew researchers wrote. “Some papers engaged in substantial experimentation on the digital side in 2012, but at this point, monetizing the online business remains largely an elusive goal.”
Pew’s results were compiled in a section called “Alternative Weeklies: Rethinking Strategy in the Digital Age.” Read the full report here.