The Orange County Register said Wednesday that it will close its afternoon edition April 1 and lay off 50 circulation employees.
The newspaper, owned by Freedom Newspapers Inc. in Irvine, said it will turn its energy to the more popular morning edition. Afternoon circulation has dropped from about 108,000 in 1980 to about 52,000 in February, while morning circulation has grown from about 113,000 to 300,000, the Register said.
"It has become increasingly expensive to produce and deliver an afternoon edition for fewer and fewer subscribers," Publisher R. David Threshie said in a prepared statement.
Afternoon subscribers will begin receiving the morning paper, said John Schueler, the Register's general manager. That will mean a circulation decline of about 1,000, he said, because some households receive both editions.
Those laid off will receive a severance package, the company said. About half a dozen jobs are open in other departments, Schueler said, and may be offered to some of the circulation employees whose positions are being eliminated.
In the past few years, the Los Angeles Times and the Long Beach Press-Telegram have folded their afternoon editions. The Daily News in the San Fernando Valley switched from afternoon to morning, as did the Oakland Tribune.
The Register's decision "is consistent with what is happening to afternoon city newspapers across the country," said Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the journalism school at UC Berkeley and author of "The Media Monopoly."
Afternoon delivery has become more difficult because of traffic congestion, and commuters who drive to work find television less taxing than a newspaper when they get home. Also, there is little fresh information that a newspaper can deliver in the afternoon to compete with the news on the car radio.
In suburbs and small cities, however, afternoon newspapers are still popular and outnumber morning newspapers almost 3 to 1 nationwide. Those publications often have a monopoly on local news in their circulation areas.
Judith L. Sweeney, president of the Times Orange County Edition, said the demise of the afternoon Register was inevitable, given industry trends.
"We think it will hurt their circulation numbers somewhat," she said, "and that will narrow the gap between our (circulation) numbers. We view it as an opportunity to talk to their afternoon customers about subscribing to our newspaper."
The Times Orange County Edition has a circulation of 193,923 daily and 291,467 on Sundays.