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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]