Tag Archives: Gannett

Accounting for Time

The more business we do, the less time we have to post our views. That’s one of three reasons for the scarcity of recent postings to the business blog section of this website.

The second reason is that I’m drafting a long article about the root of why American newspaper circulation has declined during the past 30 years, why that industry’s efforts to transplant its existing business from print to online won’t save it, what should have been done, and what might still be done in the ruins. I intend this article to go beyond What Newspapers and Their Websites Must Do to Survive, my essay published three years ago this month in Online Journalism Review. I think almost everyone has overlooked the major cause of why newspapers have lost circulation and readership during the past 20 years (which is also a major the reason why most newspapers’ websites after ten years are still read by fewer people and less frequently than the printed editions).

What’s the major cause? Sorry, but I’ll spotlight that in my article, which I hope to publish either late this month or early next month. As food for thought, meanwhile, allow me to list what the major problem is not:

  • The major problem isn’t ownership of newspapers by publicly traded corporations. Wall Street isn’t the problem. Newspaper readership has been steadily declining since the 1960s, well before most American newspapers were became owned by publicly traded companies. The layoffs and cutbacks that such companies are now making wouldn’t be made if readership and circulation were increasing. In other words, the layoffs and cutbacks are in reaction to the problem, not the cause of the problem. Yes, cutting newsroom staff doesn’t help increase readership and circulation, but it isn’t the cause of the decreases in readership and circulation.
  • The major problem isn’t lack of ‘Citizen Journalism.’ It is true that most American newspapers lost touch with their readers and many also ‘talk down’ to the readers who remain. There are many worthwhile ‘citizen journalism’ experiments underway at some American newspapers, and the tools those use can be widely applied throughout the industry. However, American newspapers thrived for centuries without ‘citizen journalism’ and advocates of it should why and what changed.
  • The major problem isn’t print’s lack of interactivity or multimedia. American newspapers thrived for centuries without interactivity or multimedia. Why and what changed?
  • Nor is the major problem newsprint itself. People today aren’t forsaking paper, just what newspaper companies print on it.

I hope my coming article will answer those questions, plus show how American newspapers need to return to what made them thrive for centuries, things the newspapers can do even better now with the new technologies.

Finally, the third reason for the scarcity of recent postings here is that any time my business partner or I blog is unpaid time for us. Unlike many other bloggers elsewhere, neither of us has had a paycheck or salary during the past ten years. We live solely from the net profits of our companies. An hour or so blogging is an hour or so of lost income to us, which can be a costly distraction.

Nevertheless, many people have asked us to continue blogging. So, we’ll continue to try whenever spare moments between business and other writing permits. Here’s what caught our attention online today:

National Journal magazine columnist William Powers believes that, “What the newspaper industry needs right now is a good publicist. Not a ‘vice president for public relations’ or a ‘spokesperson’ who puts out press releases and waits for phone calls. I mean a hard-core, hard-charging publicist like the ones celebrities employ to craft the image and keep the ‘brand’ humming.” Yes, that’s what he thinks it needs. He apparently thinks readership and circulation has been declining because newspapers don’t get enough publicity and need brands that ‘hum’ more. I’m glad he didn’t suggest Tupperware parties, too.

Jack Klunder, the circulation chief of the Los Angeles Times has sent a memo to the newspapers’ employees, “The fact remains there are too many of us with too many reasons for not subscribing. Is it because you don’t care? Is it because you get it at the office? Price? Latimes.com? Regardless of your lame excuse, all of us should be subscribing to our great paper. Why we don’t escapes me.” Perhaps, because they read it at the office?

The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that its advertising revenues slid ten percent last month, largely because of “weakness in technology, financial, general and classified advertising categories.”

Meanwhile, the Tribune Company, which earlier this month sold its two smallest newspapers (the joint operation of The Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time), announced that, ” we have no current plans to sell additional newspapers.” So said Scott Smith, president of the publishing division of the Chicago-based parent company, in a brief statement. Considering that nobody responded when Tribune put its other newspapers out to bid, Tribune’s plan is no surprise.

I live in Greenwich and know some Greenwich Time staffers socially. They were happy that Tribune sold their newspaper to Gannett Company, which publishes neighboring newspapers. That is, they were happy until Gannett asked all Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate employees to apply for their own jobs. Apparently, Gannett bought the assets of those newspapers, not the company or its employment.

Just as Tribune was selling its smallest newspapers, the Washington Post reported what many of us who have published small newspapers know: “If there’s any good news about the businesses of newspapering these days, it can be found at the industry’s littlest papers, which are doing well even as their bigger brothers founder.”

I may need to hike my consulting fees. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that it’s hired one of my acquaintances, 36 year-old Eric Grilly, as the new president of Philly.com, that newspaper’s online operation. Eric’s departure from the MediaNews Group newspaper chain, where he recently was given a seat on the executive committee and where his father retired as chief operating officer eight months ago, has surprised a lot people in American online news publishing community. More surprising to people was his compensation at MediaNews Group, which Philly.com reported as $346,050 in salary and bonus during 2006.

eMarketer.com is predicting that American online advertisement revenues will increase only 18.9 percent this year, compared to increases of more than 30 percent during each of the past three years. eMarketer predicts it will rebound to 22.1 percent during 2008, but then begin shrinking to to 13 percent annual growth in 2011. MediaPost reports that five other analysis firms (Borrell, Forrester Research, JupiterResearch, Oppenheimer and PricewaterhouseCoopers) predict annual growth slipping into the single digits in the next couple of years, for the first time since the start of the commercial Internet. I keep that in mind whenever I read newspaper trade journal predictions that at the ‘current rate of growth’ online revenues will be able to save the declining print operations. What makes those journals think that the 30 percent growth will continue?

I would have liked to attend the UK Online Publishers Association meeting in London or the World Association of Newspaper’s Digital Winners conference in Oslo this week, but was preparing for a business trip to Central America (which became postponed yesterday).

Most Major U.S. Newspaper Chains Now Have E-Mail Publishing Operations

Congratulations for the Gannett corporate staff for selecting — after more than three years of deliberations— an e-mail publishing vendor for USA Today and for all Gannett newspapers and TV stations in North America.

Gannett’s ‘quick’ selection is significant for two reasons:

First, it means that now almost all major U.S. newspaper chains have finally begun e-mail publishing operations. Gannett is the largest U.S. chain and the last to do so. Knight Ridder, Advance Publications, Tribune, New York Times, Post-Newsweek, Media News Group, and Media General already have such operations underway. This leaves Hearst and Cox as the only chains among the top 20 not to have started concerted e-mail publishing operations vendor, although a few of their newspaper sites have individually done so.

The early adopters (and I use that term relatively here) of e-mail publishing are doing indeed quite well with it:

  • Executives of the New York Times Digital’s flagship site, which truly was an early convert (1997) to e-mail publishing, have called it “one of their greatest success stories,” a revenue-generator, and a program that that also “nowadays generates approximately half of NYTimes.com’s daily pageviews.”
  • Tribune Interactive’s executives similarly have said, “Clearly it is the most successful area of Internet advertising. We needed to get into the game with a serious program.” They say that Tribune Interactive is now achieving high advertising rates with it.
  • Executives of Belo Interactive, which ranks perhaps 11th among the 10 largest U.S. newspaper chains, have said they’ve charging on average between $175 to $350 CPM rates for ad on their newspapers’ e-mails and that, “It’s not uncommon for us to send an e-mail with a $400 CPM.” Those CPMs are a magnitude higher than most newspaper sites’ banner rates.

    Second, Gannett’s ‘quick’ decision was typical of most other newspaper chains, which have come to e-mail publishing late or else without much effort at generating revenues.. At the roots of this are two unfortunate characteristics of most online newspapers: minickry and department factionalism.

  • Most newspapers’ Web sites are run by Editorial department staff or alumni, who run e-mail publishing primarily as a way of disseminating news, without much concern using it for advertising. That’s a remarkable waste when you consider that e-mail publishing has otherwise proven to be the most successful means of Internet advertising.
  • Meanwhile, most newspaper advertising staffs that do use e-mail publishing unfortunately mimic the often shady ways that direct marketers use it, ways that can make journalists cringe. I know about many newspaper ad staff that, despite their sites’ e-mail publishing programs proclaiming to be ‘opt-in’, have bought lists of e-mail addresses from brokers or simply import their advertisers’ lists, then began to send unsolicited advertising e-mails to tens of thousands of unwilling recipients. There are no better ways to get newspapers listed as offenders on anti-spam ‘black hole’ list. (I know of case this year at one of the ten largest U.S. newspapers in which the online ad department began doing those things despite vociferous objections from the site’s vice president of new media, who eventually resigned in protest.)

    Most Editorial and Advertising departments’ staffs who run U.S. newspaper Web sites have no clue what their newspapers’ Circulation staff do. Let me now enlighten them: Circulation staff make sure that more people read an edition each and every day. According to the Newspaper Association of America, 84 percent of print circulation of the average U.S. newspaper comes from direct daily delivery to homes and offices. Only some 16 percent comes from consumers remembering, and taking time, to visit sites where they can access a printed copy, despite those sites being all over town.

    If U.S. newspapers depended upon consumers remembering, and taking time, to access a printed copy daily, most of the average newspaper’s circulation would evaporate. Yet the Editorial and Advertising deparments’ staff or alumni who nowadays shovel printed content online have built their business model on that basis.

    Look at the results: the average users of a U.S. newspaper Web site visits it less than five times per month. By the way, what percentage is five days in a 31-day month? Sixteen percent. By relying solely upon consumers remembering, and taking time, to visit their newspapers’ Web sites, rather than directly delivering content daily to those online consumers, the Editorial and Advertising deparments’ staff and alumni who run those sites have achieved the same results they would have with newsprint editions if they didn’t directly deliver daily. Consumer behavior is similar on-line as off-line.

    Newspapers (and magazines and broadcasters, anyone who publishes periodically) need e-mail publishing for direct daily delivery of their online content. Moreover, periodicals need to learn much more about how to use e-mail publishing successfully. Most online periodicals are five years behind the advertising & marketing industry in general on that topic.

    I applaud the Newspaper Association of America for holding on a Webinar next week about that subject. Or for IFRA teaching a bit about it next week at IFRAexpo.

    However, newspapers won’t really learn all that much about e-mail publishing at NAA, IFRA, or Editor & Publisher magazine events. At those events, they’ll learn only what other newspapers have done. Yet, those newspapers that are doing it learned it from studying how the the advertising & marketing industry in general has used e-mail publishing — an industry that, as I said, is years ahead of the newspaper industry at this. That’s where periodical publishers need to be with these technologies: ahead of competitors, not behind.

    Newspapers need to attend E-Mail marketing conferences (such as the Direct Marketing Assocation’s Comprehensive E-mail Marketing Strategies conference next month or Jupitermedia’s E-Mail Strategies Conferences in the springtime), where they can learn from the national & local advertising professionals how legitimate (non-spam, double opt-in) e-mail marketing a billion dollar annual industry in the U.S.

    [Disclaimer: I’ve been attending those DMA and Jupitermedia events for years; been a speaker at Jupitermedia E-Mail Strategies conferences; taught the Masters Classes in e-mail publishing at the Content Summits in Zürich during the late 1990s; and was the opening keynote speaker at De Eerste Nationale Email Marketing Conferentie in Amsterdam during 2002. I’ll be publishing a research report later this year about the world’s most successful uses of e-mail publishing by newspapers and magazines. So you could say that I have a vested interest in emphasizing the importance of e-mail publishing for periodical publishing. Nevertheless, the points I’ve made above stand by themselves, despite any vested interest.]