Numbers game


To avoid lawyers, move to Piscataquis County. According to the state Board Of Bar Overseers (BOBO), there are only eight attorneys in that huge chunk of territory, a mere .004 percent of the population.

The counties that are next closest to being lawyer-free zones are Oxford and Somerset (both .007 percent) and Franklin (.009 percent, although I share a house with one of them). The counties where you’re most likely to encounter attorneys are, no surprise, Cumberland (.07 percent); around the state capital in Kennebec County (.04 percent); and Penobscot, Androscoggin, Hancock, Knox, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties (all .02 percent).

According to BOBO (in no way am I employing this acronym in a disparaging manner; if I were, I’d use the group’s official name – the Board Of Overseers Of the Bar – you can see the abbreviation possibilities available to anyone with a juvenile sense of humor), 51 percent of the state’s resident counselors-at-law practice in Cumberland County, including 57 percent of all lawyers under 35 years old. Most attorneys in rural parts of the state are antiques, and as they die off, they’re not being replaced by young whippersnappers intent on becoming poor but honest country lawyers. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the state’s attorneys practice in the four largest counties, leaving the other 12 to pick through the geriatric remains.

Right about now, you’re probably expecting me to make some Important Point. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m on vacation and had to prepare a column in advance that wouldn’t be outdated by whatever foolishness occurs in Augusta. So here are more random numbers, designed less to enlighten and more to fool my editor into believing I’m working.

The big news in circulation figures for Maine daily newspapers released by the Alliance for Audited Media was not that readership is down, but that it’s down in the only demographic that has, until now, given publishers some hope they’d survive the loss of print customers. Nearly every paper saw significant – in some cases, massive – losses of digital subscribers.

In recent years, paid online readership has grown by small but steady increments, partially offsetting the scary decline in dead-tree-edition purchasers. That trend came to an abrupt halt in 2017’s first quarter. At the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, over 4,000 digital subscribers vanished, a drop of nearly 30 percent over the same period the previous year. Combined with a print decline of almost 2,000 copies per day, that left the Portland papers with a combined hard-copy and digital circulation of 39,631 on weekdays (down 13 percent from last year) and 55,224 on Sundays (off 11 percent).

The figures were equally depressing at other papers owned by the same company. In the first part of 2016, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta claimed over 5,000 digital subscribers. In 2017, both the daily and Sunday numbers were down to barely more than 1,900, a 63-percent disappearing act. At the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, 31 percent of online subscribers evaporated, over 2,000 of them. The KJ saw combined circulation decline about 30 percent, while the Sentinel dropped 18 percent.

The Lewiston Sun Journal appears to vastly overstate its digital base, considering every print subscriber to also be an on-line one, which means they count twice. Even with that inflated calculation, the digital totals were down about 3.75 percent, while print collapsed by nearly 8 percent during the week and over 9 percent on Sunday.

The nearest thing to a bright spot is the Bangor Daily News, where 42 new online readers arrived during the week and 30 on weekends, barely making a dent in the loss of about 2,000 print customers. Overall, the BDN was off over 6 percent.

Finally, here are some numbers concerning the state economy.

From the May 11 Portland Press Herald: “Maine’s economy grew sluggishly in the final three months of 2016, expanding just 0.7 percent, making Maine the slowest growing state in New England and 43rd nationally.”

From the May 12 Bangor Daily News: “Maine’s gross domestic output, adjusted for inflation, grew about 1.4 percent last year against a national average of 1.5 percent, putting the state 21st nationally for the full year.”

Maybe that explains why nobody reads newspapers. Too confusing.

If anything happened while I was away, email