Seismic Shifts in News Industry Continue
January 21, 2022
Greetings everyone, and welcome back to the NewStart Alliance! A lot has happened since our last email. There have been new investments in local news, continuations of groundbreaking deals, expansion of local news newsletters across the country, acquisitions of national sports properties and more.
I also wanted to highlight a pretty big shift in the newspaper industry that Gannett kicked off about a week ago. Most of the newspaper chain's properties will stop printing a Saturday edition, and instead put out a full replica edition online. This idea is becoming more popular among newspapers. I experienced it during my time at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. We started by eliminating one print day per week and continued that trend to where I believe the PG now publishes a print edition just two times a week. Heck, when you try to subscribe on their website today the only print option is Sunday home delivery, so I think we can all see where the trend is heading.
In order to do this in Pittsburgh, we had to make sure that our "digital readiness" score (shoutout to Pete D!) was high. That included getting many longtime print subscribers to activate their digital accounts and actually use them to get comfortable in the digital space. A lot went into this, but for smart brevity's sake the first step was to get them to open up the "print edition" PDF via the email sent every morning. And to the surprise of many, that was actually pretty effective. The open rate and click-through rate on that email was high. The whole idea was to get people to change their habit, even if it meant just opening an email to read the daily paper instead of stepping outside their front door and grabbing the physical product.
Once that habit is changed, it is much easier to transition the audience to more and more digital products, whether it be the 24/7 website, a native app, etc.
I don't know how much work Gannett put into changing that habit ahead of time, but we will see if the move pays off. Are the "digital readiness" scores high in these markets? That answer could make or break the future of the publications as they transition to a (mostly) digital world.
Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Missed Deadlines...
Meanwhile, there are plenty of smaller papers across the country that rank low in the "digital readiness" department. That's unfortunate, because we all know that print is costly, subscribers are dwindling and the physical paper doesn't take advantage of the additional ways newsrooms can tell stories.
Instead of focusing on digital, some are trying to cut costs in other ways.
To pick up on that story, I turn things over to WVU journalism grad student Hannah Morgan, who is no stranger to community newspapers. She's had a column in her local paper since she was about 14. She did this story as part of an independent study class in the Reed College of Media. Hannah, take it away...
One newspaper in Missouri is changing the way it delivers its print product to help offset revenue loss.
Joplin Globe Publisher Dale Brendel said that switching to USPS instead of newspaper routes was a difficult decision that they carefully evaluated before moving forward with it. They needed to find a way to reduce expenses to offset the revenue losses from the pandemic. Switching their delivery method to USPS seemed like the best alternative.
“It's a challenging time in the industry, and papers and media organizations have been financially stressed exponentially by the pandemic. Although our readership — especially our digital audience — has grown, revenues have taken a hit as advertisers face their own financial challenges,” Brendel said.
He said they also had a difficult time finding delivery drivers.
“It is significantly less expensive for us to mail the paper to our reader rather than contract delivery drivers, which are in short supply these days,” Brendel said.
However, he explains that there is one downside to this new delivery method.
“So, the downside to mail delivery is getting the paper later in the day, rather than in the morning when most readers have become accustomed to getting the paper,” Brendel said. “A key for us was having same-day delivery. Readers get their paper whenever the rest of their mail is delivered.”
Which is something that one subscriber, who prefers to not be named, said is one of the reasons they don’t like the new delivery method. They explained that the newspaper comes around 3 p.m. and that they don’t receive newspapers on federal holidays due to the USPS being closed.
“The only upside to all of this is that the newspaper has been dry,” they joked.
But Brendel said that subscribers also get a digital E-edition that is emailed to them by 6 a.m. in addition to the physical copy.
He also explained that this allows them to maintain the quality of the newspaper.
“The annual savings from this change will allow us to avoid other kinds of cuts, such as furloughs, layoffs, cutting pages of content,” Brendel said.
He said the Globe has lost around 3 or 4 percent of subscribers from this change.
“But we hope we can get them back if they still value staying informed and connected to the community,” he said.