USA newspapers circulationCirculation declines at the nation’s newspapers are speeding up.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations said Monday that average daily circulation declined 7.1 percent in the October-March period from the same six-month span in 2007-2008. The latest figure represents data from 395 daily U.S. newspapers that reported in both the current and year-ago periods.

The most recent drop was faster than the 4.6 percent fall recorded in the April-September period of 2008, and the 3.6 percent fall recorded in the October 2007-March 2008 span.

USA Today remains the No. 1 newspaper, though it suffered the steepest circulation drop in the publication’s history. It sank 7.5 percent to 2,113,725 after several periods with little change. The Gannett Co.-owned newspaper attributes the falloff mostly to a drop in hotel occupancy that stemmed from the economic decline and a December price increase for copies sold at newsstands.

The Wall Street Journal, the second-largest newspaper, was the only one in the top 25 to raise its daily circulation. It increased less than 1 percent to 2,082,189. The New York Times’ daily circulation fell 3.6 percent to 1,039,031, while the Los Angeles Times saw a drop of 6.6 percent to 723,181.

Other newspapers in the top 25 had daily circulation declines ranging from less than one-tenth of 1 percent at the Chicago Sun-Times to a drop of 20.6 percent at the New York Post.

Sunday circulation fell 5.4 percent in the latest period. This is based on data from 557 U.S. newspapers that reported in both the current and year-ago periods.

The New York Times continues to be the top newspaper on Sunday — when USA Today and The Wall Street Journal do not publish — though circulation dropped 1.7 percent to 1,451,233. The Los Angeles Times remains second, with a decline of 7.5 percent to 1,019,388.

Two newspapers in the top 25 posted Sunday increases, but both gains were less than 1 percent. Sunday circulation rose to 516,562 at The Arizona Republic and hit 415,815 at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Newspaper sales have been declining since the early 1990s, but the drop has accelerated in recent years. Circulation revenue has largely held up, though, because of price increases. The publications have been hurt more by drops in advertising sales, which represent the bulk of revenue at most newspapers.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.