The New York Times has emerged the big national winner from the latest six-month sales figures for America’s major daily and Sunday papers. But that wasn’t good news for its bitter local rival, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled New York Post (run by Australian Col Allan) which is doing badly and is among the worst performing of the country’s top 25 daily papers.

Figures for the six month to March this year from the US Alliance for Audit (the old Circulation Audit Bureau) showed that thanks to a sharp improvement in its digital subscriptions, The New York Times‘ Monday to Saturday edition moved past USA Today (published by Gannett) to become the second-biggest selling paper in the country after The Wall Street Journal, controlled by News Corp.

The Times moved ahead of USA Today to the No. 2 slot with a combined circulation of more than 1.86 million copies (analogue and digital). That included the addition of some 325,000 digital readers, lifting the total to over 1 million and a rise of 18% over the year. That offset a loss of nearly 50,000 print sales over the year from March 2012.

And, compared to March 2011, The Times‘ total circulation has jumped from 917,000 (all print) to the latest figure of 1.586 million. Print sales have slumped to 731,000 — a fall of 186,000 copies. But the company introduced the metered paywall system from March 2011 and digital subscriptions have soared to the latest figure of 1.134 million (of which more than 700,000 were full paying customers and not on the introductory system). That’s up 32% in the past year alone.

The company last week revealed a series of price cuts and plans for new types of digital offerings to try and keep momentum growing. That was after new digital subscriptions fell to 40,000 in the March quarter from 76,000 in the three months to December. The New York Times Co said the new offers, including a new lower tier offer priced at under $US15 a month (around half the current bottom rate), will aim at boosting sales and profits  from 2014 onwards.

For the New York Post it was a very different story. It saw a nasty plunge in print sales in the six months, which couldn’t be made up by a smaller rise in new digital subscribers. While total sales figure for the Post of just over half a million a day look good, the fall in print sales was a disaster and call into question the health of the paper ahead of its inclusion in the forthcoming split of News Corp into two companies from June 30.

Total sales were down 9.9% from the 555,000 sold a year earlier, but that disguised a 26.5% — or 108,000 copies — plunge in print sales to just 299,950 from 408,579 at March, 2012. Digital subs have jumped to just over 200,000, from 147,000 a year earlier.

Sales of the two other New York area papers — The Daily News and Newsday — were also weaker, down 11% and 5% respectively, with print sales at both falling by more than the smaller rises in digital subscribers. There’s an obvious structural decline in the newspaper industry in New York.

For the Murdoch “jewel” The Wall Street Journal, it was a solid audit period. It maintained its top position as America’s largest-selling paper with total analogue and digital sales of 2.378 million, up 12% from March 2011 and up from the 2.117 million at March 2011. Print sales though fell 86,000 over the year, but more than 300,000 new digital subscriptions were added over the year to a new high of 898,000 at March this year.

The big loser nationally in the US was Gannett’s USA Today, which saw a steep drop in print sales that was not offset by a rise in digital subs. The March 2013 figure showed USA Today had total sales of 1.674 million, made up of 1.424 million print sales (down from 1.701 million in March 2012) and digital subs of 249,000, up from 116,000. Total sales have dropped 255,000 since March 2011, a fall of 14%.

The News (down 11%), the Post (down 9.9%) and USA Today (down 7.9%) were the top three losers in the half-year period among the 25 top papers in America.

According to the report from the Alliance, overall circulation for 593 US newspapers for the period to March 31 fell 0.7% from a year earlier, and Sunday circulation for 519 newspapers surveyed dropped 1.4%. Digital readership, which includes access on mobile devices and websites, made further gains in the past year and now accounts for 19.3% of US daily newspaper circulation, up from 14.2% a year ago. These rules though are a bit fluid and comparing digital subscriptions to analogue print sales is not strictly accurate

AAM said The Los Angeles Times remained the No. 4 US daily with a combined circulation of 653,000, followed by the New York Daily News (516,000), New York Post (500,000), Washington Post (474,000) and Chicago Sun-Times (470,000). No. 9  was The Denver Post (416,000) and 10th was The Chicago Tribune (414,000). The LA Times and The Tribune are both on the market after being in bankruptcy for the best part of four years.

The AAM said it was studying a proposal to eliminate the five-day average for print circulation to be able to include newspapers that have cut their print editions. Several have reduced home delivery options of print to just three days a week.