Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Who Reads Newspapers Anymore?

It looks like a few people with blogs sure do! Let's start this with my standard disclaimer - I work for the local newspaper. I'm biased. And I love any talk about - for or against - newspapers. I don't write for the paper - I market it. Mark Goren at Transmission Marketing posted on an award-winning newspaper ad campaign and asks the question

"But did it sell any newspapers?"
According to Mark's sources the answer is a resounding "no". Not a surprise, as newspapers have watched circulation decline for a couple decades. Since I was in circulation for most of those 20 years, I've often asked the question, "Why did my boss keep me around?" :) David Reich at my 2 cents - whom I've shared comments with (if you haven't checked his blog - just do it) - posted about Mark's piece. He asks the question:
"Any other ideas to help newspapers grow their readership, whether in print or online?"
The three suggestions mirror Mark's and he gets comments from Lewis and Cam. Lewis is a newspaper guy and has added to my perspective. While I've not talked directly with Cam (about newspapers anyway) his comment goes directly to an online newspaper question - "Do you drive the reader from print to online or from online to print?" Then he suggests a more capital friendly approach to readers who get free content. I'm going to assume that means "Why not charge for the content?" And David follows up with a "what if" a newspaper website posted capsules of the story and pointed to the "full story" in the print edition. That would sell a few more single copy. You can read all this if you go to David's post.

Allow me a little ramble here. Its not my intent to be simplistic or presumptuous. But I do speak with pride. I think newspapers too often get a bum rap. Let's assume we all want a perspective on local news. It's what has sold the newspaper since the turn of the 20th century when more and more publishers got presses. For the purpose of this post, I'm talking US newspapers. Prior to that most of the news came from the big cities via transportation like Pony Express, the Union Pacific, etc. People got the news from the "national" viewpoint during the western US expansion. It provided (and still does) a daily history. I've recently read 3 books - Team of Rivals, Devil in the White City, and The Worst Hard Time - and am astounded at the local newspapers that are cited in both the prose and the bibliography.

But more than merely wanting a perspective on local news - we want to be part of the community. We want to know what's going on around us. As intelligent humans, we have a strong desire to help create a thriving environment where we exist. A local newspaper provides an "avenue of discovery" we can travel down. We want to be part of the solution - not the problem - and a good newspaper reports on the community. Good news and bad news - 365 days a year (366 in leap year) - and now, with online websites, 24/7.

Altruistic? Probably - and still circulation declines - one subscriber at a time. Readership is another measurement altogether. Some recent research shows total newspaper readership - which counts online - among 25-34 year olds is up 15% (source:Scarborough 2006) . A recent story in Editor & Publisher (industry bias to be sure) says the same thing in a different way. What we do here is give full online access to home delivery subscribers. We call it added value. You can subscribe online only for $7 a month - but I get home delivery so haven't paid real close attention.

If you are a local newspaper reader - Bravo - keep reading! My guess is that most of you are. When you get a chance - visit the paper in Spokane (links are everywhere on this blog:). Most of the website is accessible. Tell me what you think - or not. We have a long way to go in exposing the overall value of newspapers.

Here's an informative page -regarding advertising - from the Newspaper Association of America.

And thank you David, Mark, Lewis, Cam, Cord, and Robyn for carrying on the newspaper conversation. As our editor says - News is a Conversation.


Cam Beck said...

About a decade ago, I worked for a couple of small market newspapers in production and design capacities. I still miss the smell of a pressroom and the energy of the newsroom when the time came to start the presses (or replate).

I've been thinking about this for some time... I'm not certain that an online subscription model is the answer. Advertising still has a chance to work.

But for online advertising to be successful for local news organizations, the advertising must make use of the Web's strengths - that is, the environment that fosters more direct targeting of content and advertising. So far, for smaller markets at least, this type of technology has been prohibitively expensive.

Perhaps this is an area that requires teaming up with other organizations that have comparable goals and more money... Local TV stations? ... Or maybe it just requires waiting until the technology itself becomes less expensive (no guarantees there)...

I really don't know... but I'm enjoying the discussion immensely.

BobG said...

Good reflection, Cam - once the smell of the press gets into your senses...well, you're hooked :) - I like your web strength view "the environment that fosters more direct targeting of content and advertising." If I understand direct targeting its about the right ad (offer), in the right place, at the right time, to the right person, for the right reason. And it is a web strength - to be sure. I'm not certain technology will ever be less expensive - particularly when factoring in the expense of smart people who are "clear on the concept". In addition, advertisers (and marketers) expect measurement and validation of how well the advertising works. We can gather a lot of data - what are the right ones? Teamwork, sharing and collaboration become more important by the day.

Thank you for commenting - You have kicked my Thursday morning off in fine fashion!

Matt Haverkamp said...

Bob - I have worked for McClatchy, USAToday and the Washington Post all on the interactive side. But I first and foremost love the print. My father has been a huge inspiration for me when it comes to the reading the paper. To me the paper is my membership to the community. It means that I belong to something large than myself. Do I read it cover to cover, no otherwise I would not get my work done.

What do you think of Points programs that some newspapers are trying to impelement? Trying to reward users for reading the paper and spending money in the community.

BobG said...

very cool, Matt - thanks for weighing in and joining the conversation. Your's is a great testimonial to learning from example. I too learned to love reading the paper from parent - mom in this case.

My feeling is newspapers are integral to community building - not to mention democracy.

I like the idea of points rewards with a caveat. The ones I am familiar with are a little clumsy. By that, I mean difficult to administer. Given the right reward at the right time I have a hunch they work but my experience is otherwise. Websites may change all of this - somebody will develop the smoothest way to reward readers.

Great question!