The metropolitan area's five daily newspapers Tuesday reported circulation numbers for the six months ended March 31 that appeared in most cases to be lower than a year earlier, experts said.

Year-over-year comparisons were problematic because of new rules from industry monitor Audit Bureau of Circulations that allowed papers for the first time to count more digital products, such a mobile devices and e-readers, the experts said. Papers also were permitted to include in their numbers print copies and website visits not paid for directly by readers.

However, average circulation across the industry continued its decades-long fall. "Print circulation has been declining since about 1989," said industry analyst John Morton. "Newspapers are trying to make the transition to the Internet, and it's been painful . . . Digital circulation isn't nearly as profitable as print circulation."

Newsday reported Tuesday that its weekday sales averaged 298,759 copies in the six months ended in March under the new counting rules. Circulation was 334,809 in 2010 under the old rules, which combined print copies with some digital products. Sunday sales were 362,221 and 394,909, respectively.

Separately Tuesday, the audit bureau released a report showing the number of people reading Newsday in print, at least once a week or online at least once a month, averaged 2.5 million in the six-month period. That was 4 percent higher than a year earlier.

Newsday's gain was among the largest in the country. This data wasn't affected by the new circulation rules.

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Newsday spokesman Paul Fleishman said, "Readership penetration remains strong with 64 percent of Long Island adults reading Newsday every week, and we have a number of new initiatives under way, including our recent redesign and expansion of our local news content to ensure that we remain the leading resource for news and information on Long Island."

Recent changes to Newsday's print and online editions occurred after the reporting period and were not included in the figures released Tuesday. Similarly, The New York Times' numbers do not incorporate the new pay wall on its website.

The Times' weekday circulation averaged 916,911 in the six months ended in March under the new rules. It was 951,063 in 2010 under the old rules. Sunday sales were 1.3 million and 1.4 million, respectively. A Times spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported weekday circulation of 2.12 million for the most recent period. It was 2.10 million a year ago. The Journal's weekend edition, delivered on Saturdays, totaled 2 million and 1.9 million, respectively.

The New York Post had weekday circulation of 522,874 recently. It was 525,004 in 2010. Sunday sales were 355,784 and 333,958, respectively. A Post official could not immediately give a comment last night.

The Daily News reported weekday circulation of 530,924 for the six months ended in March. It was 535,059 a year ago. Sunday sales were 584,658 and 600,118, respectively. News chief executive Bill Holiber said the paper had "experienced growth in our subscription base by promoting our digital products."