Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Newspapers working hard to reduce readership

In the march toward opening new revenue streams, newspapers are making short-sighted moves that will end up costing them in the long run.
The Monday, July 2, print edition of the Neosho Daily News featured this announcement:

Get your wedding, engagement, anniversary and birthday announcements uot to thousands of readers every week using the Neosho Daily News. For a small fee of $10, your announcement will be published in the Sunday editions of the Neosho Daily News. This rate includes the write-up and a photograph. The rate goes into effect July 2.

Don't blame the people in Neosho. As Publisher Rick Rogers noted "This policy is company wide, but we were able to set a price we felt would not put a strain on our customers."

I was at The Carthage Press when the Joplin Globe began charging to print full obituaries. The Globe was not the first newspaper to do this (though it was the first in this area), but it started a trend that has continued and even escalated recently. Now, in addition to full obituaries, newspapers are charging for all of the items mentioned in the Daily's article. Newspapers are charging readers for access to their archives, and while I can understand the natural aversion by businesses from giving anything away for free, the newspaper companies are taking a shortsighted attitude toward their own business.

Every survey shows that newspaper readership is decreasing. The circulation at weekly newspapers has held steady over the past few years, but the dailies are losing customers right and left. They have to make up the money in some way and that way has been charging to print news items that have previously not cost a cent.

How does this damage the newspapers?
In past Turner Report posts, I have noted the problem with not printing obituaries. If the newspaper's job is to cover the community, and it is, then the deaths of its citizens, both prominent and otherwise, should be at the top of the list. One thing that was always accepted as I grew up and during my early days in newspapers is that the obituary page was the one place where people truly were created equal. Everyone received an obituary, and surveys constantly showed that the obituary pages had more readers than any other section of the newspaper. Cut down the access (and giving just one paragraph for free is definitely cutting down the access) and you immediately set into motion a long-term decrease in readership.

The weddings, engagements, and anniversaries, have consistently been among the top readership items in the Sunday papers. Yes, the Daily and GateHouse Media's other newspapers will make money from this move. In the short term, it will improve the newspaper's profit margin, but there will not be as many of these items in the newspapers, even at the seemingly bargain basement $10 price. If readers do not expect to have their major events in the newspaper, then why should they bother to become readers in the first place?

I come from the dinosaur era where events such as births, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, and most of all, deaths, are considered to be news, and not just news, but important news.

The message that has been sent by these shortsighted newspaper companies is that only people who have money are worthy of being included in their pages. And if that is the case, why should anyone else bother to read the newspaper?

A few bucks now is not worth increasing the consistently growing erosion in newspaper readership.
Another example of the shortsighted attitude taken by newspaper companies is the effect these kinds of decisions are having on future generations' ability to research history.
Newspaper archives have always been a treasure trove of information for historians and genealogists. With these decisions cutting out a whole group of people, we can expect some gaping holes to develop in our history.


Anonymous said...

This obviously came as a directive from Chip Watson, who is under the gun from GateHouse to squeeze even more profit from the Neosho and Carthage papers. I'm sure Mr. Rogers, philosophically, is opposed to this measure but wants to keep his job at the same time. There is no hope for the Globe, however.

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. I no longer subscribe to any newspaper. I do look at the News Leader online and the Branson Daily News. And yes, I do look at the death notices in the News Leader every morning. As for the Branson Daily news, its 99% worthless whether online or in your hand. Just about everyone agrees, but it has tons of help wanted ads. If there were no motels wanting maids, the BDN would starve out no doubt.

Anonymous said...

The News-Leader began charging for anniversary and wedding announcements about one year ago. Obits in that paper have been sold for years. I'm afraid the trend is going to grow and include community newspapers. Keep an eye on the CPI newspapers ... they may be the next ones to start charging.

Anonymous said...

Obviously advertising revenue is taking a nose dive at both papers, leaving them scrambling to make up the money through raising subscription rates, charging for weddings, and everything else under the sun.

Local advertisers have fled from their websites, and It doesn't look like they have signed up any local businesses to advertise through that Totally Local thing on their web sites.

It's hard to build up any relationships with a business when your advertising sales positions are revolving doors and your ad manager can't make any sales because his drivers license is taken away by the judge.

Anonymous said...

Not as if he made sales with a driver's license