With costs rising, many publications are looking for ways to cut down on expenses in order to increase ROI. One such strategy for decreasing expenditure might be a reduction in print frequency, but publications must consider the effects of such a change on their brand and audience.
Print frequency has long been a term used to understand the audience and purpose of publications. For example, while a newspaper might run a print daily, a magazine may only publish monthly or quarterly. These characteristics develop trust between the audience and the brand, and readers begin to rely on the consistency of print frequency. Furthermore, many publications depend on print or digital ads as a revenue stream, which is also affected by print frequency. These are just a few reasons why changing your print frequency is a question that should be carefully considered.
“Reducing frequency is a local decision based on local parameters. What is right for one community or market may not be the correct path in another. For those electing to reduce their frequency, obvious savings come from less newsprint, reduced distribution costs, person-hours savings, and so forth,” explained John Newby, founder of 360 Media Alliance and Truly-Local, publisher, consultant and a national columnist.
“Reducing several days can add up to quite a few dollars. But buyer beware, not all this newfound revenue will be realized if you haven't factored in the loss of subscribers. Depending on the market, this hit ranges from 2-3% to greater than 15%. Many will come back in the future, but there will be some short-term subscriber erosion,” continued Newby.
Newby explains that the number one concern of any publication considering a reduction in their print frequency should be their readers. Publications should consider what effects this change will have on their readership and plan for a loss in subscribers. Just as in any industry, a business must understand its audience and the needs of its consumers before making any substantial changes. Miscalculating those needs could result in a more severe loss of readers.
Newby recalled a time when he worked with a newspaper considering reducing its print frequency, increasing its rates and moving the publication to mail. They eventually decided it would be best to make all changes at once to avoid disrupting their readership multiple times that year. When describing what he believed was the biggest saving grace for this publication and its brand, Newby said the answer was simple — honesty.
“The publisher and editor did a great job telling the public what was happening. They discussed financials, finding carriers, newsprint costs, market trends and much more. They treated their readers as family and conveyed the reason for the changes honestly,” explained Newby. “At the end of the day, they lost very few readers and gained a ton of respect simply by being honest with their readers upfront about the reasons for the changes. That is what actually builds your brand — honesty and transparency,” continued Newby.
By considering audience and branding as mutually beneficial success factors, publications can make the right decisions about these financially important decisions. Readers are more likely to stay subscribed through changes if they respect the brand. That all being said, there is more to consider than just readership when it comes to a reduction in print frequency. The campaign's success hinges entirely on what publications do with the newfound profits.
“The real problem I see in the industry is that few actually reinvest those savings back into the product. It goes to stabilize the bottom line. If the newly found revenue is not invested back into the product, all you have done is extract from your product, providing the reader with a less delightful reading experience. Many in the industry still have this wild notion that they can cut their way to growth. Sorry, that's not possible. That is like cutting off one's legs in an attempt to be taller. To survive, our industry still needs to find new revenue verticals that help sustain the news product. I don't have all the answers on that front, but I know we continue to ignore many verticals as the digital world passes us by. E-commerce, Ai, creative and revenue-producing loyalty programs ... and the list goes on,” Newby said.
Editor & Publisher spoke with George Coleman, general manager, Victoria Advocate, about his experience with print frequency reduction. Coleman and Newby worked together on print frequency re-evaluation at the Lebanon Democrat about five years ago, and Coleman provided a detailed explanation of how they evaluated their readers’ needs.
“We chose to reduce it from five days a week (Tuesday through Saturday) to three days a week (Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday). From a reader standpoint, we understood that some of our audience relied on receiving the printed newspaper to get their news and information promptly. They were not accustomed to going to our website, so the every-other-day alternative gave us the best chance to keep them current with the local news,” said Coleman.
“We doubled up on comics, puzzles, Dear Abby and other features we knew they would miss. As a result, the papers were larger in page count than the previous Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday papers. We still produced content every day of the week, so our subscribers had access to the most current information on our website. From an expense standpoint, the biggest loser of this move was the post office. By making this move, we did not impact our employees in any way. Furthermore, the readers received all the content they were used to receiving. Also, by printing every other day, we kept our print-only readers informed of the local obituaries, which are very important to older readers,” Coleman continued.
Coleman explained that he attributes the success of the reduction to communication. By facilitating ample internal communication involving all affected departments, the Lebanon Democrat was able to develop a plan they believed would be mutually beneficial for both the publication and the readers. Once the planning process concluded and they were ready to initiate the plan, further communication (and honesty) was required to ensure readers understood why the change was necessary and how the Lebanon Democrat did what they could to uphold the integrity of their brand.
Kirsten Staples is a contributing writer for Editor & Publisher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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