Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How newspapers are losing next-gen readers

A new study shows the dramatic degree to which consumers under the age of 40 have repudiated newspapers.

The must-read report, which was released Monday by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, found an alarming disconnect between younger and older consumers in the value they put on newspapers as sources of information about their communities.

Pew split the 2,251 respondents to its poll between those aged 18 to 39 and those 40 and older.

When asked by researchers to identify their preferred source for crime news, 44% of those in the 40-plus category named newspapers, as compared with just 23% for the younger cohort.

As illustrated below in the click-to-enlarge table, the story is the same on all but one of 16 coverage categories included in the poll, which ranged from restaurants to zoning. Some of the most lopsided responses were in the areas of community events, local politics and the arts.

In what may be a sign of the desperation of the population in this time of high unemployment, the only area where young and old alike turned with equal frequency to newspapers is hunting for information about jobs. Even there, only 17% of each age group considered newspapers the first place to look.

Pew also found this sobering statistic: Fully 69% of respondents said it would not “have a major impact” on their ability to keep up with news about their community if their local paper no longer existed.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Time for a sales tune-up

Though newspaper ad sales have been sliding steadily for 5½ years, many publishers have yet to take a deep look at the four components necessary for a healthy and forward-looking revenue program. They are Products, Process, People and Pride.

If your sales are not where you want them to be, this is what it will take to fix them:


Only $3.50 of every $10 spent by local businesses on advertising goes to traditional newspaper advertising, according to a national survey conducted by Borrell Associates.

With merchants of all sizes moving away from costly, reach-based media like newspapers and toward the inexpensive and targetable digital media, it is unrealistic to believe newspapers can maintain their share of the local ad spend by simply improving the way they sell their flagship print and web products.

As the Borrell survey found, $1.50 of every $6.50 not spent with newspapers goes to maintaining a company’s presence on the web and in the social media. Another $1.50 is split between Yellow Pages and radio. One dollar goes to direct mail and another dollar is divided evenly among broadcast television, cable TV and billboards. The balance goes to everything from signage to Little League T-shirts.

To reach advertisers where they are – and where they increasingly will be in the future – publishers must offer a wide variety of marketing and customer-acquisition services. These include but are not limited to, web and mobile site development and hosting; search-engine optimization; online ad placement on third-party media like Google and Facebook; print and electronic direct marketing, and social media marketing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and whatever comes next.

Without a comprehensive, digital-rich product portfolio, newspapers will be left with shrinking scraps of business as their advertisers shift more of their dollars to pixels from print.

Takeaway No. 1: Salesmanship can’t substitute for products that don’t meet customer needs.


Owing to the premium prices newspapers historically have charged for advertising, publishers almost always have offered high-touch, and therefore high-cost, customer service.

The classic newspaper sales cycle includes the free production of spec ads, multiple (often in-person) sales calls, unlimited copy tweaking before ads go to press and even costly outings for clients.

But these practices are becoming increasingly unaffordable at a time that newspapers are battling not only declining ad volume but also extreme price competition from a growing array of digital competitors. Google and Facebook require advertisers to buy, build and monitor their ads entirely on their own, while leaving a credit card on file so they can be billed in real time.

Newspapers can’t go cold turkey on cold-calling customers, especially when they need to educate them about the broad product suite suggested above. But publishers can take the time – and invest the funds necessary – to streamline back-office and production systems to free reps to sell, instead of processing paperwork, policing billing and tinkering with ads.

In many cases, this means automating antiquated ordering, production, scheduling and billing systems. In most cases, it means differentiating the duties of ad staffs so sellers can sell and production specialists can take care of the rest.

With duties carefully aligned and assigned, managers will have better visibility into the productivity of each employee, making it possible to address inefficiencies and deficiencies.

Takeaway No. 2: Sales people need to sell, not shuffle papers.


People are the strength of every organization and newspapers can’t afford weak people at a time they must be more nimble than ever at diversifying their ad bases by introducing new products.

To build strong organizations, publishers have to establish – and enforce – clear performance metrics, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

While sales productivity is one of the easiest things to measure, it will take more than holding reps and managers to gross dollar targets. Their incentives must require them to recruit a certain percentage of new advertisers and to demonstrate their ability to sell new products.

To make reps as successful as possible, publishers need to provide them with the product s and sales training they need to be comfortable and competent in selling print, online, mobile, social and direct-marketing media.

When training fails, managers have to move people into positions where they can make a more positive contribution – or out of the organization to make room for someone who can.

Takeaway No. 3: If people are your strength, you need strong people.


In a talk not long ago to newspaper executives, television sales guru Jim Doyle chided the group for allowing “others to position your product” as a tired and ineffective medium. He is right.

With a full suite of advertising products, a newspaper can be a powerful marketing partner for almost every business in town.

Takeaway No. 4: You can’t sell with confidence without conviction in the product.

© 2011, Editor & Publisher

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Abramson faces toughest test of any NYT boss

Jill Abramson will have a tougher job than any of her predecessors when she becomes executive editor today of the New York Times, because she is being thrust into completely uncharted territory where she will have to choose between two irreconcilable paths.

She either will have to cannibalize the flagship print product to build the strongest possible digital franchise for the Times – OR – she will have to concentrate on sustaining the commercial strength of the print edition at the risk of channeling insufficient resources into assuring the strongest possible digital future for America’s newspaper of record.

Although it would be nice to have it both ways, that is not going to be possible in a time that resources are unlikely to increase – and, in the worst case, could shrink – at the most well-endowed newsroom in the land, where the editorial payroll tops 1,000 individuals.

The problem for Abramson is that the print and digital media demand significantly differentiated products, which the Times has not been able to produce to date with even its enviable strength. While the Times is formidably staffed to produce its estimable print edition, its digital business has not gotten the same resources and attention as the print product.

If the Times is to be as powerful a digital force in the future as it historically has been in print, it is going to have to create a plethora of highly differentiated and optimized web, mobile and social products that go beyond the current mission of previewing or recycling what appears in print, because there’s no reason to buy the print edition if you subscribe to any of its digital feeds. Further, as detailed in a moment, there’s reason to wonder about how many people will be willing to pay for its digital products.

If the existing editorial staff is cleaved to put more resources into creating highly optimized digital media, then the print report necessarily will suffer. If the paper continues concentrating on print, it likely will be out-maneuvered by digital competitors who are 100% focused on being successful in those media – and completely unabashed about aggregating content from the Times to achieve their goals, as Abramson’s predecessor, Bill Keller, noted in a widely discussed column earlier this year that oxpecked the Huffington Post for overzealous pursuit of the practice.

If unfavorable economic circumstances force cuts in the Times newsroom that are anything like those suffered at almost every other paper in the land (including its parent company’s publications in New England, the Southeast and California), the choices that Abramson faces will be starker – and more painful. But, make no mistake: The dilemma will persist even if Abramson keeps the cost-cutters at bay.

Abramson’s situation is not unlike that facing most publishers, who, on average, derive 90% of their revenues from the circulation and advertising sold in connection with their flagship print products. (The public affairs department at the NYT company failed to reply to calls and emails seeking the precise percentage of digital revenues at the Times but a bit of reverse engineering of the company’s financial statements finds that its entire publishing division derived 10.3% of its revenues from digital media in the second quarter of this year.)

With most demographic and commercial trends suggesting that print readership and advertising revenues will continue to decline as the Boomer generation rides into the sunset, newspapers today rely on the print product not only to keep the lights on but also to fund the innovation they hope will successfully transition their franchises to an increasingly digi-centric world.

But the stakes in this balancing act are higher for the NYT than most publishers because the growing success of its digital product – it is the top pure-play news site in ComScore rankings – could cut deeply into the sale of the print version of the national edition that is responsible for some 60% of the newspaper’s circulation.

The most recent audits show that total average circ for the Times is 916,911 on weekdays and 1.3 million on Sunday, meaning that 550,000 daily subscribers and 780,000 Sunday readers live out here in the hinterlands where it costs nearly $1,000 a year to buy the national print edition of the Times.

It’s a fair bet that the people who faithfully read the national print edition of the Times are not only thoughtful and wealthy but also increasingly comfortable with consuming news on such devices as computers, smart phones and iPads.

The more they doodle with the various digital incarnations of the Times, the faster the national readers will realize that nearly the all the news that fits in print is not only immediately at hand in pixels but also available before the presses even start to roll.

Out here on the Left Coast, I scan the stories in the next day’s NYT on my iPhone before I go to sleep. When I fish the fish-wrap edition out of the blue baggie on my doorstep in the morning, the news looks awfully old to me. Like most modern individuals who care about what’s happening in the world, I check NYTimes.Com and other sites throughout the day to catch up on the news.

So, why spend $1,015.56 a year for the print edition at full cover price plus 8.5% sales tax in San Francisco, when you can get the all-you-can-eat digital package for $455 a year?

Or, you can do what my 72-year-old brother in law does in Michigan. A distinguished and erudite lawyer who retired a few years ago as the head of a major Chicago firm, the first thing he used to do every morning – rain, sleet or snow be damned – was jump in his car to buy the New York Times.

Even though he managed to avoid using Dictaphones, Selectric typewriters, PCs and cell phones throughout his career, he got a Nook about a year ago, which he now uses for everything from reading books to surfing the web to doing Sudoku.

“I don’t have to buy the Times any more,” he says. “You can read 20 articles a month for free on their website and catch up with summaries of the rest on Huffington Post.”

If the New York Times could lose him as a paying customer, it could lose anyone.

That’s the challenge Abramson faces in her new job.