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Part 1: Retaining Readers; It’s Not Too Late

Hold on to readers because print still pays the bills.

iStock-176596184A significant percentage of subscribers are leaving print for news websites.

No surprise here, except that many of these websites don’t belong to newspapers.

You might be surprised, however, by other factors feeding churn.

Lack of time is generally the primary reason quitters give for cancelling their subscriptions. But that’s just a top-of-mind response they give circulators on newspaper stop studies. Dig deeper, and we find that time isn’t even close to being No. 1.

Cost is also frequently mentioned, but price has even less impact than time.

In-depth probing of former readers and subscribers by American Opinion Research (AOR) shows other, more fundamental reasons subscribers quit. These are costing you readers and revenue. Digital is probably the future, but print still pays most of the bills, so it’s vital to keep as many print readers as possible for as long as possible.

There are ways to make this happen that won’t break the bank.

Why Readers Quit

The reasons many people quit have more to do with what consumers think of printed newspapers and their websites, and how they perceive them.

Newspapers need to follow the lead of most other industries (automotive, for example) and do a better job differentiating their products, and then promoting the differences and benefits of each.


Take a look at the chart (above), based on interviews by AOR with more than 3,000 adults from across the country.

  • Almost two thirds of former readers say they have already received from other sources news that comes in the printed newspaper by the time they received it; and, almost as many say print contains the same information as the newspaper website.
  • Perhaps more concerning, fewer than a third say the printed newspaper has news and information they can’t get elsewhere – one of our best predictors of readership and loyalty.
  • A relatively small minority say newspapers provide up-to-date news and information.

Although not as dramatic, there are similar perceptions among current readers, which indicate the potential for an even more accelerated erosion of print readers.

  • Almost half say they have already received news in the printed newspaper by the time they receive it; and, almost as many say it contains the same information as its website.
  • Only one-in-three current readers say the printed newspaper has news and information they can’t get elsewhere.

Consumers are confused what you’re offering, how and on what platforms. It’s possible to convince some to read the printed newspaper and access your websites, but not the way they are now perceived.

Editors have told me their practice is to continually update digital content (which they should), and then use the final version in print when the paper hits its deadline. That’s great for work flow, but not so good for building use of, and loyalty toward all your products.

If your printed newspaper and website aren’t working together, they’re not working.

Yet, almost every day I go online and compare newspaper front pages with their websites. And almost every day, I see front pages and websites that not only lead with the same content, but sometimes even the same headline.

Local News: Newspapers Are Losing Their Edge

We’ve known for a long time that local news (defined in a variety of ways) is the No. 1 benefit newspapers can provide their communities.

Yet, as shown in the following chart, consumers say they now rely on television for local and community news more than any other source.


Newspapers rate well behind.

Does television really provide better local news content?

Absolutely not!

But, that is the perception of consumers across the nation. It’s probably true in your market.

Some reasons:

  • As stated above, newspapers need to do a better job of differentiating their products. We’re talking with some newspapers on how to use research to develop new content strategies to exploit the unique benefits of each platform. It’s extremely unlikely printed newspapers will ever be the first with the news anymore, but there are other ways you can provide unique, useful information to retain readership.
  • Television is very good at promoting itself, something newspapers (and their websites) need badly to improve. Unlike television, and most other consumer companies (and newspapers are a consumer product) when newspapers do promote and market they tend to promote their products, not the benefits to consumers of using those products which is all readers care about.
  • Newspaper marketing budgets are not only dramatically lower than most industries, many marketing plans need to be better conceived and executed. Many simply don’t engage consumers. We provide suggestions in Part 2 of this article.

It’s Time for Newspapers to Re-invigorate Your Brands

For decades, newspapers have talked branding, but most branding programs have achieved very little.

Consumers today are increasingly “expectation driven;” that is, they will use a service, or buy a product (including newspapers and access to newspaper websites) based on their expectation of what they will receive from it.

They want personal, demonstrable benefits in exchange for their time and money.

A brand is not a logo or a tagline, it’s the way you want consumers to think of you. A strong positive image will result in customer retention and increased reader frequency among former subscribers and single-copy buyers, many of whom still read the paper occasionally.

As seen above, however, the image of most newspapers is not strong.

Most consumer companies spend years building an effective brand image. Newspapers don’t have that patience. Many newspapers rely on Spring and Fall campaigns, with very little marketing in between.

These are just some of the reasons printed newspapers are losing market share; but, they are little discussed but most important.

Check out Part 2 of this article, and we’ll suggest some cost-effective strategies to change these perceptions and increase reader frequency.

For more on American Opinion Research, click here.

Contact Anthony Casale at 609-683-9055 ext. 202 or email [email protected]

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If Your Newspaper & Website Aren’t Working Together, They’re Not Working

Increasing unduplicated reach print and online is an effective way to build reach; yet:

  • About half of print readers say the newspaper website is essentially the newspaper online
  • More than four in 10 online users say the printed newspaper and website have about the same content

One result: lower readership and use of both. This is particularly true of younger adults, a vital audience if you are to build use of digital products.

Our suggestion: audit content on both products to ensure they are complementary not repetitive; then, promote these differences on each platform.

Future IMS Updates will discuss how to do this.

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Suggestions for Using Integrated, Cross-Channel Marketing

Our new research shows 90 percent of Americans use the Internet, 70 percent own a smart phone, almost six-in-10 use at least two social media sites, and more than half still read a printed newspaper.

With the changing media environment, the need for integrated multi-platform marketing is vital to the success of virtually every program and campaign. This is particularly true for reaching younger adults, the vast majority of whom rely on digital devices for all types of news and advertising information.

Some suggestions:

  • Make your marketing program synergistic; make sure your message is clear, concise, consistent across all channels, and includes a compelling call to action
  • Know your target audience, what they use, when they use it (consumers use different channels at different times of the day); relatively inexpensive online research can answer these questions

Understand that consumer behavior varies by channel; they often use one to research a product or service, and another to buy.

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A New Mindset to Building the Media Business

New research from American Opinion Research (AOR) indicates that newspapers, magazines, websites and other media need to look at things differently today to add readers, users and build market share.

  •  Readers and users are in command now

Consumers can acquire information about almost any topic, where they want it and when they want it. We need them more than they need us.

  • AOR Research shows uniqueness rules

Where your products are perceived as providing information unavailable elsewhere has become a primary predictor of readership and usage; something to consider when selecting content and developing marketing and promotional campaigns.

  • Focus on building reader and user frequency; worry less about the hard-core customer, and the hard-core non-customers

Attracting hard-core non-customers is expensive. You already have market share among hard-core customers. Target those in between. Research can tell you which is which.

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Three Practices to Keep In Mind When Writing SEO Content

Strategies for effective Search Engine Optimization have changed significantly over the past several months, but one thing that has remained consistent the importance of well written, relevant content. Relevant content is king when it comes to the search engines. It is the most important factor Google and Bing look for when deciding where your website ranks in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It’s important to consider several things when writing high quality, relevant, SEO-friendly content for your website.

  • Know your keywords and phrases you’re targeting. This will allow you to write specific and relevant sentences for each keyword and phrase
  • Use precise headings for each section; it's more effective if you use your targeted keyword or phrase in the heading. Headings are used to indicate what people will find in the content and also search engine crawl bots will know what a searcher will find. Always keep in mind the primary reason people go to search engines is to find answers to questions, needs and interests. Also, remember the Heading Tags are for Headings Only. It’s easy to forget while using the WYSIWYG tool in WordPress or any other content management system (CMS) that headings have a specific purpose and are not to just change your font size
  • Make your internal linking interesting. Think beyond the simple “click here” or “learn more;” think relevant informative “anchor text.” This will indicate exactly where a person will land within your site and also ensure crawl bots know exactly the page.

Keeping these three simple practices in mind will lay the groundwork for writing great SEO-friendly content for your website.

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