Articles about "Circulation"


Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee is receiving hospice care

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. ESPN asks dudes to address domestic violence: A two-hour pregame show preceding Monday Night Football will feature, among other things, a panel discussion featuring 11 men, Ben Collins reports. “When the show has updates from the field—brief reports about injuries and the upcoming game—they’ll cut to female sideline reporters, Lisa Salters and, on some weeks, Suzy Kolber. ¶ These people are not allowed at the table.” (Esquire) | UPDATE, 12:39 P.M.: ESPN says no such panel is planned. (Deadspin)
  2. Ben Bradlee is getting hospice care: The former Washington Post editor has dementia, his wife, Sally Quinn, said in a C-SPAN interview broadcast Sunday. (Politico) | “[O]ver time, his condition became more difficult to manage.” (WP)
  3. Reporting is dangerous: Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai was harassed outside Madison Square Garden Sunday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke. (The Times of India) | “Mob of people attacking an Indian journalist for being critical of Modi on the past.” (@JFK_America) | AP photographer Andre Penner was “punched and kicked Friday at a presidential campaign event in Brazil.” (AP)
  4. Instagram blocked in mainland China: “While the exact reason behind the shutdown was not immediately confirmable, it seemed likely that the sudden mainland disruption was linked to the flood of images related to the Hong Kong protests on Instagram.” (FP) | On Sunday more than a 100,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded FireChat, which allows chat over WiFi and Bluetooth. (South China Morning Post)
  5. Magazines want to be count their readers in a new manner: Using circulation numbers “simply and significantly underrepresents the actual audience,” Association of Magazine Media honcho Mary Berner tells Nicole Levy. (Capital) | “Readers or viewers are likely to be counted multiple times depending on how they access the content any given month.” (WSJ) | You can look at the “Magazine Media 360⁰ Brand Audience Data” here. | Definitely related: It’s Advertising Week. | Slightly related: Under art editor Françoise Mouly, The New Yorker’s covers have become edgier and more topical, moving away from what Editor David Remnick calls “a lot of abandoned beach houses, bowls of fruit and covers reflecting the change of seasons.” (NYT) | Definitely related to that slightly related item: This week’s cover has an animated GIF. (The New Yorker)niemann-cover-690x962
  6. The Mercury News has moved: New building lacks a moat. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about for years but never thought would really happen,” Sal Pizarro writes. (San Jose Mercury News)
  7. Jeff Bezos talks to press: In an interview (!) with Mihir Dalal, Leslie D’Monte and Shrutika Verma, Bezos hinted at his ambitions with regard to The Washington Post. “[I]f you have a great newsroom … you can go from having a really successful local paper, which is what the Washington Post was, you can go from that to being a national paper and even a global paper. (Mint)
  8. ONA ends with awards: An awards banquet Saturday closed out the conference, with ProPublica, The Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times taking home some hardware. (ONA) | “This must be the TSA’s way of saying ‘Congratulations on winning five sharp, pointy lucite awards.’” (@kleinmatic)
  9. Front page of the day, curated by Kristen Hare: A cloud of teargas looms over a crowd of protesters on the front of the South China Morning Post.scmp_09292014
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Bryan Zidar is now managing director of corporate communications for Alaska Airlines. Previously, he was director of corporate communications at T-Mobile US. (PR Newser) | Taimur Ahmad is now CEO of LatinFinance. Previously, he was editor-in-chief there. Katie Llanos-Small is now editor-in-chief of LatinFinance. Previously, she was news editor there. (Marketwired) | Judy Davidoff will be editor at Isthmus. Previously, she was news editor there. (Madison.com) | Job of the day: The Montrose (Colorado) Daily Press is looking for a news editor and paginator. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org

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Digital editions up slightly at U.S. magazines

AAM

Digital edition circulation rose at U.S. magazines in the first half of 2014, according to the Alliance for Audited Media’s most recent report. But digital editions represented only 3.8 percent of total circulation, compared with 3.3 percent in June 2013. Paid subscriptions fell nearly 2 percent, AAM’s Neal Lulofs writes. Single copy sales fell about 12 percent.

AARP The Magazine and the AARP Bulletin were the top magazines in the U.S. Both saw circulation gains. Circulation at Game Informer Magazine, the fourth-biggest title, fell 9 percent, but was still relatively massive: 7,099,452. GameStop owns Game Informer and bundles subscriptions to it with the chain’s paid loyalty card, Michael Sebastian reported last year.

The Top 10 magazines (and their total paid, verified, analyzed and non-paid circulation):

  1. AARP The Magazine (22,837,736, up 4.1 percent)
  2. AARP Bulletin (22,183,316, up 2.2 percent)
  3. Better Homes and Gardens (7,639,661, up .2 percent)
  4. Game Informer Magazine (7,099,452, down 9.3 percent)
  5. Good Housekeeping (4,315,330, down 1.9 percent)
  6. Family Circle (4,015,728, flat)
  7. National Geographic (3,572,348, down 10.7 percent)
  8. People (3,510,533, down .9 percent)
  9. Reader’s Digest (3,393,573, down 35.3 percent)
  10. Woman’s Day (3,288,335, down 3.1 percent)

Some news magazine stats:

  • Time‘s circulation was down about half a percentage point, to 3,286,467.
  • Wired‘s circulation rose 6.8 percent, to 917,580.
  • The New Yorker‘s circulation was 1,049,430, down .6 percent.
  • The New Republic‘s circulation fell 11 percent to 41,429.
  • Bloomberg Businessweek‘s circulation fell half a point, to 992,582.
  • The Atlantic‘s circulation fell 1.5 percent, to 480,317.
  • The Week‘s circulation rose 3.2 percent, to 579,291.

The Top 10 digital replica magazines (and their digital replica circulation):

  1. Game Informer Magazine (2,894,248)
  2. Shape (296,157)
  3. Star Magazine (237,333)
  4. OK! Weekly (196,248)
  5. Working Mother (194,167)
  6. Maxim (186,863)
  7. National Geographic (164,408)
  8. Taste of Home (160,198)
  9. Men’s Fitness (156,600)
  10. Cosmopolitan (154,278)

Worth noting: The next nine magazines after Game Informer have a combined digital replica total of 1,746,252, about 60 percent of Game Informer’s digital circulation. Read more

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Earns Gannett

Circulation revenue rises at Gannett’s local papers

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 (OK, perhaps slightly more than 10) media stories.

  1. Gannett had a good second quarter: Broadcast revenue was “almost 88 percent higher in the quarter compared to the second quarter last year.” Publishing advertising revenue fell about 5 percent; circulation was roughly flat, and “At local domestic publishing sites, home delivery circulation revenue was up in the quarter due, in part, to strategic pricing actions associated with enhanced content.” (Gannett)
  2. Washington Post fights the “wonk wars”: The Washington Post’s new “Storyline” project is “dedicated to the power of stories to help us understand complicated, critical things,” Editor Jim Tankersley writes. (The Washington Post) | Michael Calderone takes a look: “It’s unlikely The Post would’ve launched a project like Storyline a few years ago.” (HuffPost) | Tankersley writes that as a college student he was inspired by Richard Read‘s 1998 series about french fries: “Those stories brought the crisis home in a way no textbook or straight news piece could, because at each step, they showed how global trends touched people’s lives and livelihoods.” (The Oregonian)
  3. Why corrupt politicians should avoid Vermont: Vermont has the best-covered legislature in the country, and California has the worst, Pew finds. It takes another view of its data on statehouse reporters, looking at the relationship between the number of reporters and states’ population. (Pew) | “Yes, most national news sites have had to slim down but they remain major behemoths in terms of staff. Regional and local news organizations have been hit far harder, meaning that the at-the-roots level coverage of politicians and policies is significantly restricted if not nonexistent.” (The Washington Post)
  4. Press secretary lectures reporters on anonymous sources: White House press secretary Josh Earnest complained about the sourcing of a Washington Post story. (The Daily Caller) | The “criticism doesn’t make sense,” Post national editor Cameron Barr says. “We are sometimes compelled to rely on background sources with knowledge of internal deliberations – that is one of the best means available to hold the administration and other powerful institutions to account.” (Poynter) | “This is rich.” (Politico) | “Two reporters pointed out the White House is hosting its own anonymous call Monday afternoon on a job-training report.” (Business Insider) | “What Earnest knows so well is that competitive Beltway reporters will continue participating in those accountability-defying background briefings, even though the White House press secretary is on record as questioning their utility.” (The Washington Post)
  5. Jill Abramson sought friendly press: Women reporters have shown an “absurd display of credulity and clubbiness” while interviewing the former NYT executive editor, Liz Spayd writes. (CJR) | Very slightly related: Here’s Abramson talking about traffic safety. (The Village Voice)
  6. Analyst says Tribune’s newspapers are worth $635 million: That’s “less than 10 percent of Tribune Co.’s total valuation,” Robert Channick reports. (Chicago Tribune)
  7. “I regret wasting time thinking I wasn’t good enough”: Advice for young journalists of color from Cord Jefferson, Anna Holmes, Jenna Wortham, Wesley Lowery and others. (BuzzFeed)
  8. There’s money in events: Functions put on by AtlanticLive, the company’s events business, “now account for close to one-fifth of the Atlantic’s overall revenue.” (DigiDay) | Recently: NPR’s Margaret Low Smith will run AtlanticLive. (Poynter)
  9. Here’s today’s world news, edited by Kristen Hare: Colin Brazier, the Sky News reporter who pulled items out of a suitcase from the MH17 crash while on air, apologized in a column in The Guardian on Tuesday. | Journalists lives are in danger while covering Gaza, Reporters Without Borders wrote Tuesday. Two Palestinian journalists have been killed and four injured so far. | International News Safety Institute reported Monday that “Ukraine was the most dangerous country for journalists” in the first half of the year. So far, seven members of the media have been killed. | Here’s the front page of The West Australian, from Perth, Australia, courtesy Newseum:

    AUS_WA

  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Andy Wright is the new publisher of The New York Times Magazine. | Janet Mock has been named a contributing editor to Marie Claire. She’s the author of New York Times bestseller Redefining Realness, and a former staff editor at People. (@janetmock) | Garrett Graff has joined Politico Magazine as a senior staff writer. Formerly, he was editor-in-chief of The Washingtonian. (Politico) | Slate moves: Dan Kois is now culture editor at Slate. (@juliaturner) John Swansburg is deputy editor, Josh Levin is executive editor. (Muck Rack) | Katie Nelson will be national editor at the Huffington Post. Previously, she was deputy managing editor for digital at the New York Daily News. (@Joy_Resmovits) | Zach Pagano has joined KRDO in Colorado Springs, Colorado as a multimedia journalist. Formerly, he was an anchor at KCWY in Casper, Wyoming. (Zach Pagano) | Jon Skorburg will be vice president and general manager at WOI in Des Moines, Iowa. Formerly, he was vice president and general manager at WQRF in Rockford, Illinois. (Mediabistro) | Margaret Schmidt has been named editor of The Jersey Journal. Formerly, she was managing editor of the paper. (The Jersey Journal) Job alert: California’s KQEDis looking for interns to start in September. Get your résumés in! | Send Ben your job moves:bmullin@poynter.org.

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An employee at the St. Paul Pioneer Press printing plant loads a cart with Tuesday's first edition Monday night, Jan. 30, 2006 in St. Paul, Minn. The Pioneer Press is a Knight Ridder paper. Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder Inc., which is actively considering a possible sale of the company, reported a 22 percent decline in fourth-quarter earnings from the same period a year ago, which included earnings from newspapers the company no longer owns in Detroit and Tallahassee, Fla. But the results topped analysts expectations. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Digital circulation figures are an absolute mess

We’ve written quite a bit at Poynter about how newspaper circulation numbers are basically meaningless now. The Alliance for Audited Media tries to provide a helpful framework for reporting digital readership, but the ways we consume news are so varied that it’s tough to nail down exactly what should count.

AAM acknowledges as much, cautioning against reading too much into overall circulation figures, particularly when it comes to generating top 10 lists and such (the organization itself stopped publishing a top 25 list last year). But that doesn’t keep newspapers from celebrating misleading numbers to whatever extent they can, so it didn’t stop me from trying to figure out if the numbers obscure some troubling trends. Read more

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NYT’s big circulation gains include copies of international edition

Average Monday-Friday circulation at The New York Times was 15 percent higher for the six months ending March 2014 than it was in the same period the year before, new figures from the Alliance for Audited Media say. But that figure includes 126,162 branded editions, which AAM rules allow newspapers to roll in alongside print and digital circulation. (A branded edition could be a total market coverage publication containing coupons, for example, or a Spanish-language edition.)

The Times has never before included branded editions in its circulation totals, Times spokesperson Linda Zebian told Poynter in an email. Those figures “are comprised of the International New York Times, and are included in the circulation for every day except Sunday,” Zebian wrote.

Subtract those and the gain is a little more than 8 percent. The paper’s average Sunday circulation went up 8 percent over the year before, to 2,517,307, a figure that does not roll in any branded editions.

USA Today posted another eye-popping circulation increase that fully avails itself of AAM’s rules: A 94 percent rise in average Monday-Friday circulation that includes 668,054 branded editions, as well as 1,365,388 “digital nonreplica” editions, which includes app users. (Sam Kirkland wrote about USA Today’s renewed approach to circulation figures last year.)

Gannett began including a “butterfly edition” of USA Today in some of its local papers last year.

In California, where Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner has placed great emphasis on print circulation, average Thursday-Saturday circulation rose 50 percent to 754,418, a figure that includes about 465,000 branded editions. Average Sunday circulation went up nearly 76 percent, but that figure, too, was heavily boosted by 230,864 branded editions. Average Thursday-Saturday print circulation was 239,595, and average Sunday print circulation was 388,748.

Both those figures nonetheless represent strong rises over previous periods: average Sunday print circulation was 285,794 in March 2013, a rise of 36 percent. The Register broke out daily circulation figures differently in March 2013, but in September 2013 it reported average Monday-Thursday print circulation of 162,066 meaning that circulation rose about 48 percent. Read more

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McClatchy explains change in circulation revenue

The McClatchy Company

Circulation revenue was up nearly 6 percent in McClatchy’s first quarter, the company said in a report Wednesday. But, the report said, that revenue was up less than 1 percent “excluding the $4.3 million in revenue related to the transition to fee-for-service circulation delivery contracts at certain newspapers.”

Reached by email, McClatchy Director of Investors Relations Ryan Kimball said some of the company’s newspapers “transitioned to a different circulation contract” during the first quarter. The contracts are fee for service, which for accountants means their “delivery expenses are no longer netted against circulation revenues and thus makes the reported circulation revenue higher.” So some of the papers had higher revenues and higher delivery expenses, he said. The change “has no impact on operating income or cash flow but we do point it out so investors can get a sense of what circulation revenues did in a given period ignoring the impact of the transition.”

Advertising reveue was down nearly 7 percent compared with the same period in 2013, McClatchy said in its report. The company said nearly half of its advertising revenue now comes from “nontraditional sources.”

The company got $147 million from its stake in Classified Ventures, which recently sold. It expects to receive $34 million from the pending sale of its Anchorage Daily News. Taxes should shrink that nut to $24 million.

Disclosure: Poynter has a training partnership with McClatchy. Read more

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Newspaper industry narrowed revenue loss in 2013 as paywall plans increased

The newspaper industry narrowed its total revenue loss in 2013 to 2.6 percent, the best performance since 2006, according to figures released today by the Newspaper Association of America.

As suggested by earlier year-end reports from public companies, daily and Sunday print advertising revenues were down 8.6 percent and total advertising revenues down 6.5 percent.

However, circulation revenues grew for the second consecutive year, up 3.7 percent in 2013 compared to a 5 percent increase in 2012. That was driven by continued adoption of paywall plans, now at more than 500 of the roughly 1,400 dailies.

Revenue from digital-only subscriptions was up 47 percent, and print + digital bundled subscription revenue grew 108 percent. With many newspapers now offering all print subscribers a free digital access bundle, revenue from print-only subs and single-copy sales was down 20 percent.

Besides the circulation gain, the industry had 2.4 percent growth in digital marketing services offered to local businesses and showed some growth in newer activities like events and conferences.

Total revenue for the industry stands at $37.59 billion compared to $38.60 billion in 2012. Of that, $10.87 billion comes from circulation.

The NAA calculates digital advertising revenue rose 1.5 percent for the year and now accounts for 19 percent of ad revenues. Mobile ad revenue, though still very small, increased 77 percent in 2013.

The NAA has made several changes in how it computes and releases these figures in recent years. In 2013, it stopped releasing quarterly reports, which CEO Caroline Little said usually resulted in negative coverage and thus fueled a “newspapers are dead” narrative.

Starting with last year’s report for 2012, the NAA began trying to include more different sources of revenue in the computation. That resulted in the discovery of about $5.5 billion in revenue in such activities as contract printing and weekly and niche publications owned by dailies that had not been previously counted.

Because of those changes total industry revenue figures for the last two years cannot meaningfully be compared to those for earlier years.

The NAA estimates are based on a survey of both public and private companies along with projections for those papers not reporting.

Today’s report does not include updated estimates for daily and Sunday circulation, the number of daily papers and industry digital traffic. Metrics and sources for these numbers are in transition.

The results underscore the thesis of former NAA Chairman Jim Moroney, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, and others that new revenue streams apart from traditional advertising and circulation are becoming a key element of financial  improvement.

Though digital ad revenue gains again failed to make up for print revenue losses, there was mildly encouraging news on that front. Despite continued downward pressure on prices and tough competition from digital giants with virtually no news operations, the industry eked out a gain.

The NAA also calculated that “pure play” digital ads — that is ones not sold in a combination with print schedules — now account for nearly a quarter of the digital ad total.

The figures also bear on the continuing debate on paywalls.

Companies that continue to offer all digital content for free like many Digital First papers and all of Advance’s are sitting out the main source of revenue growth over the last several years. They are growing digital traffic much more quickly than most, but it is unclear how their digital ad revenue growth compares with potential circulation revenue left on the table.

Paywall critics like Digital First CEO John Paton have suggested that the gains amount to a one-time price increase and may be hard to sustain or even maintain after the first year or two. Part of the 2013 growth doubtless comes from new digital and bundled pay plans.

But The New York Times has introduced both higher and lower priced versions of its initial pay plan this spring, and others are expected to follow suit. So that could be a basis for continued circulation revenue growth on top of the first surge.

Public companies have not yet reported their first quarter 2014 results, but the trend of print and total revenue loss continues. That is resulting in current or prospective cuts to newsrooms and business operations at many companies.

Clarification: A previous version of this story reported the narrower revenue loss in 2013 was the best performance since the mid-2000s. For clarity, it is since 2006. Read more

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Nate Silver: Pulitzer-winning newspapers aren’t immune to circulation losses

FiveThirtyEight

A newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize count has very little effect on its circulation losses, Nate Silver found after a spin through some data:

Does that mean that newspapers might as well forget about quality as an economic strategy? That’s not what this data says. There is a relationship between Pulitzer Prizes and circulation (the correlation is .53 among the 50 newspapers listed here). It’s just that this relationship hasn’t changed much from 10 years ago. The vast majority of newspapers have seen their circulations decline; the ones that win a lot of Pulitzers have suffered about as much as the ones that don’t. You could spin this result as a negative for high-quality journalism — newspapers that win Pulitzers are doing no better at retaining their readers — or as a positive — almost all newspapers are struggling, but the ones that win Pulitzers continue to have more readers.

Silver looked at daily circulation figures, which led to some strangeness: The Times-Picayune dropped 100 percent by his count, for example, because it no longer publishes daily.

Increasingly, though, it’s nearly impossible to wrest any meaning from the circulation figures publishers report to the Alliance for Audited Media. The data are, as Silver might say, very, very noisy.

Some papers count average daily circulation as Monday through Friday. Some do Monday through Saturday. Others, like the Times-Picayune, break out circulation data by individual day. At any rate, Sunday is “by far the most valuable audience for advertisers,” Rick Edmonds wrote in 2012.

Here’s what I wrote last October about circulation in Louisiana in September 2013: Read more

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A USA Today newspaper box is shown in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

USA Today’s two-year strategic overhaul gains traction

(This case study, the fourth in an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation.)

USA Today has probably changed more in the last two years than in its previous 30.

Always a circulation-driven enterprise, the paper now has a radically different audience strategy, substituting mobile app traffic for the rapidly falling readership of its legacy print edition and folding a new condensed USA Today section into the largest 35 of Gannett’s 81 community newspapers.

Publisher Larry Kramer and his hand-picked editor, David Callaway, brought several decades of digital experience to the formidable task of finally breaking away from a print-first culture in the USA Today newsroom.

That these things happened has been reported by the company in recent presentations to investors, in two stories by the Wrap’s Sharon Waxman and in a nice summary piece this week by David Cay Johnston at CJR.com.

How it all happened is quite a tale as well — a combination of bold moves and smart mid-course adjustments, a case in point of digital transformation generally but also one that required shedding the particular baggage of USA Today’s brief but turbulent history.

In spring 2012, Kramer, 62, founder of MarketWatch, was wealthy from its 2005 sale to Dow Jones and enjoying semi-retirement pursuits like consulting, writing a book on digital news and teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.  But he was intrigued by the pitch to take over USA Today.

“The brand was wonderful, still very strong,” he said in a phone interview, but at the same time “everyone was worried.”

In particular, the newsroom was only nominally digital, Kramer said, and it was past time to integrate USA Today with the rest of Gannett’s news-gathering. “That was an attractive challenge.”

By Kramer’s assessment, USA Today was early and successful with the design of mobile apps, “but just not very digitally savvy….The content was mostly wires. Then the USA Today version of the story later was dated (as far as attracting digital traffic) by the time it came out.”

“There was no editor and no publisher at the time,” he said, and the operation was “fairly adrift.”

A second part of Kramer’s diagnosis was that despite years of top-down pushing to build a digital presence, “the newsroom hadn’t gone along.”

So one of his first decisions was to bring on board Callaway, his stable mate at MarketWatch for a decade as editor. “There were no high-ranking digital people, and in my judgment, one coming in at a lower level would get eaten alive. People thought of David as a business specialist, but I knew he could do general news, too.”

USA Today creates a national news desk

“We began working right away on creating a national news desk for the entire company.” Physically, Kramer said, the operation, which now has grown to 45 editors and writers, is arrayed in an outward facing circle, looking at big-board display of traffic metrics. When an important story breaks, they turn around, huddle at a table in the center and coordinate plans. Then they go back to their desks with plans for USA Today itself, the community newspapers and Gannett’s large television group.

These days, Kramer said, 90 percent of breaking stories are USA Today staff written and that has helped drive traffic growth for the site since search engines value original content over generic wire coverage that might be found in a variety of places.

Callaway told me that, in the last 18 months, USA Today has advanced to fourth place in digital traffic, trailing only Yahoo, CNN and NBC.

Part of the trick, Callaway said, is to differentiate print and digital to match reading habits on the platforms. For instance when USA Today in print ran a lengthy narrative of how General Motors came to order a massive recall, the condensed digital version was a timeline of nine things GM knew and when they knew them. Even more recently, USA Today digital has produced stories like “Five things that happened in Ukraine over night.”

USA Today has also dipped into the “personal brand” approach to building traffic, notably in media where Rem Reider was added as editor and columnist and Michael Wolff writes flamboyant-by-design commentary.  (Kramer added that increased media and tech coverage has also helped raise visibility with advertisers). Prominent columnists like sports Christine Brennan and Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page turn up with increasing frequency on cable TV.

So why didn’t all that happen earlier? Kramer cited USA Today’s early history, a decade of borrowing reporters and editors from community papers which continued to pick up their salaries. That fostered a relationship that was “respectful but not endearing,” Kramer said. The community papers “with aspirations of covering national and international news themselves,” were dug in, insisting on independence.

That began to change with offers of modular USA Today sports reports and a USA Today news page, paving the way for the special sections introduced over the last six months, six to 12 pages on weekdays, bigger on Sundays.

Special USA Today section for community papers

Versions of that plan had been on the shelf at Gannett corporate for some time, Kramer said. But suddenly it was a solution to a pressing problem.  The company had introduced paywalls throughout the chain along with big price increases for bundled print + digital subscriptions.

The company had recognized the move would raise questions about the volume and quality of news in papers that had been much slimmed down over the years. Indeed digital-only subs attracted fewer readers than hoped and moving new subscribers to print + digital from introductory to full rates was also proving difficult.

So a new bonus section of USA Today content provided a potential solution and has tested out well in every market. Kramer credits Bob Dickey, head of the community publishing division, with an important wrinkle that helped seal the deal for subscribers on the fence.

With national and international content largely moved to the USA Today section “that added space for local news to the papers” in the A-section.  Dickey, Kramer said, “encouraged every paper to have an explicit plan for using that space and to promote it as well.”

It may seem a little ironic then that digital guys Kramer and Callaway’s most visible initiative, the so-called Project Butterfly is a print one. But Kramer said as he got deeper into his job, he had plenty of reasons to pay close attention to print.

While building digital, Kramer said, “I realized that I needed to preserve print circulation as long as I could. We still get a lot of revenue from print (circulation and advertising).” Print advertising, way down after the recession, grew in 2013 and stands to benefit in 2014 from the enormous added circulation of the inserted sections.

“This brings in 2.5 million more readers daily and the same or more on Sunday,” Kramer said. So if, for instance, “Procter and Gamble wanted to congratulate one of the Olympic athletes it sponsored,” they could now put that message out to a huge print audience overnight.

Elephant in the room: hotel circulation

Also overhanging USA Today was a fundamental challenge the digital era had brought to its longtime print circulation strategy. The core audience had always been business travelers, served with copies at their hotel door or in airports. But rather quickly, beginning in the mid 2000s, the typical business traveler began carrying a laptop or mobile device and could access a variety of reading options, including his hometown paper.

By the time Kramer came on board, hotel distribution was already beginning to shift from at-the-door delivery to a stack available to those interested by the elevators or in the lobby.

Also, Kramer said, the long-run of USA Today’s distinctive TV-style boxes was winding down (though they had a certain legacy standing, dating back to the Al Neuharth start-up days). “Some were only selling a paper or two a day.”

For a fix, Kramer instituted a series of interlocking moves. Exploiting new Alliance of Audited Media (AAM) rules, he began counting downloaded mobile apps as part of total circulation. So even as paid print plummeted, the total increased (despite USA Today’s site bucking the paywall trend and remaining free).

Gannett also negotiated with AAM to treat the USA Today section inserts as a “branded edition,” which can be a condensed version of the original under the auditing agency’s rules. So USA Today will be adding hundreds of thousands of new subscribers as Project Butterfly rolls out during this six-month period and the next.

USA Today’s paid print had already fallen in just a few years from 1.7 million to 1.2 million in the period ending in September of last year. And, clearly ready to accept bigger print losses, the company doubled the single-copy price that month to $2.

“No one carries eight quarters around in their pocket,” Kramer said, and in fact not all that many had been feeding four quarters into the boxes for a single-copy purchase. So the price increase became the occasion for pulling the boxes in and eliminating the considerable cost of stocking them.

Now, Kramer said, USA Today has evolved to having most single-copy sales in stores and newsstands. And home delivered subscriptions, hit with a smaller price increase than single copies, now make up the majority of USA Today’s paid print for the first time in the publication’s history.

USA Today has received attention for a deal with the Hilton chain in which the Web version of the paper is prominently featured as guests plug into a wireless connection in their rooms. But don’t look for hotel distribution to go all-digital anytime soon.

Hilton, Kramer said, “has the same wi-fi provider everywhere but not every chain works that way.” Besides, he said, “hotel lobbies are still a place many people like to use newspapers.”

Bringing TV to the party, selling more digital ads

Part of the content “integration” Kramer and Callaway are aiming for involves Gannett’s 43 TV stations, a total expanded with the acquisition of Belo’s properties. On the one hand, the stations provide an increasing volume of video for USA Today’s site and apps. Conversely, the new national news desk now pump out content to the TV stations as well as the community papers that they can adapt.

Both cited an investigative piece last fall, timed to the NSA snooping revelations, about as Callaway put it, “how police are tapping into your phones.” It was a big front-page splash for the national edition but also easy for the community papers and TV stations to make their own with some localizing.

Business changes on the digital side have been less conspicuous. Previous management had pushed for vertical sites on all of USA Today’s color-coded topics. Sports, travel and tech remain, Callaway said, but the rest have been pulled way back, allowing more staff to rove over a variety of topics rather than narrowly focus on one.

In digital advertising, Kramer said, “the big decision was to get rid of roughly 75 percent of the ad units.” The objective was to cut back on cheap remaindered space and make most ad availabilities prominent, scarce and premium-priced. But, he conceded “that has been painful at first…not all of our advertisers were ready to produce those kinds of ads.”

Coming next in 2014 will be offering the condensed USA Today section to non-Gannett newspapers. “We have had a half-dozen major inquiries,” Kramer said, and refining the idea will move to the front burner as the community paper rollout is completed at the end of this month. Kramer likes to refer to this as a “network/affiliate” model, analogous to NBC offering its content both to stations it owns outright and to affiliates, with advertising opportunities divvied up so each side benefits.

Another likely 2014 project will be launch of a weekend edition of USA Today, since the national news desk is a seven-day operation and is preparing the condensed version for Saturday and Sunday papers already.

Kramer used the boxing term “the tale of the tape” as an indicator of success to date. Which is to say that print and digital audiences and advertising are all up. The company stopped reporting USA Today revenue and earnings separately around the time of the great recession of 2008 and would not provide me with current figures.

But I’m not sure last year’s or even this year’s bottom-line results are all that important. Like Digital First and Advance, Kramer is walking the walk of disruption and the real test will be whether the gain outweighs the pain and transitional expense in three to five years.

Besides, the overdue full integration of USA Today into the rest of the company appears to be nearly complete, so it may make progressively less sense to view USA Today’s revenue contribution in isolation.

A skeptic’s view

While I found Callaway and Kramer candid, I also realize they were spinning the positives. Analysts and investors have liked what they are hearing and Gannett stock has had a long upward run — probably mostly due to broadcasting results and expansion, though change on the publishing side has been well-received as well.

But might I be missing some blemishes? I asked Jim Hopkins, an often fierce critic of the company who shut down his Gannett Blog after a six-year run about a month ago. In a return e-mail, Hopkins credited Kramer and Callaway for “pumping up the circulation numbers,” integrating USA Today into the rest of the company, and having “sped up the assembly line so more content is now appearing faster online and in digital apps.”

But Hopkins did voice a reservation:

I don’t see any significant improvement in the quality of editorial content.
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NAA: ‘Print only’ still more than half of newspaper audience even as digital grows

A new analysis of the most recent newspaper audience reports suggests a surprising split in reading habits. Digital audience continues to grow. Mobile audience is growing quickly. Mobile-only audience, though much smaller, has grown to 7 million.

Yet more than half of newspaper audience — 54 percent as measured by Scarborough research in 150 large markets — still read their local paper’s news report only in print.

There is an important qualifier to that finding. The 54 percent may consume a substantial amount of national news on various digital platforms, but even with the growth of print + digital access subscriptions, they do not visit their hometown paper’s website.

John Murray, the Newspaper Association of America’s vice president of audience development, generated a number of other headline findings in his analysis published on the NAA site (members-only) earlier this month:

  • Total daily circulation was up 3 percent year-to-year and Sunday circulation 1.6 percent among 541 daily papers reporting results to the Association of Audited Media (AAM) for the six-month periods ending Sept. 30, 2013 and September 30, 2012.
  • The daily circulation gains were entirely driven by digital gains at the largest newspapers. Sunday gains also reflected the heavy use of “Sunday Select” products — packets of inserts to non-subscribers — by larger papers. At the great majority of newspaper organizations reported digital audience did not offset print circulation losses.
  • Print circulation continues to decline as a share of total circulation — now 71.2 percent daily and 74.9 percent Sunday. A year earlier, print was 85 percent of the daily total. That is to say that the industry — especially the largest papers — is using changed AAM rules to substitute digital audience for print.

I wondered, given the much lower cost of digital ads, whether the substitution maneuver contributes to continuing print and total ad losses, roughly 6 percent in 2013 if recent reports by public companies are representative.

To an extent that is true, Murray told me in a phone interview, but perhaps not as much as the raw numbers would suggest. In the first place, advertising is concentrated in Sunday editions and a few weekdays. Sunday-only and three-day print subscriptions keep those numbers higher than an overall daily average.

Run-of-the-paper ad rates do not correlate closely with circulation declines. Pre-printed insert revenues do, Murray said, but advertisers have been accepting of the “Sunday Select” products as an equivalent.

Overall, Murray’s paper concludes, these results show differing audience strategies, including discrepancies among papers in what they choose to count in their AAM reports: 

Newspaper readers are increasingly using digital products with the most substantial increases among the mobile platforms…The majority of newspapers are posting smaller declines in traditional print circulation (than national and other large papers). Most offer digital products to their readers that are similar to the largest newspapers, but they are not necessarily reporting use of these platforms in their AAM total circulation metric….

AAM circulation data is more insightful, expansive and transparent for individual newspapers due to changes in reporting rules. These changes also mean that using AAM “total circulation” as an exclusive metric across the industry is an exercise in looking at the sum of disparate parts. But a closer examination of the elements, supported by readership data, does confirm a steady transition to digital reach among newspapers and a healthy print readership base for readers and advertisers.

My takeaway is similar. The transition to digital and to mobile-only users continues to advance at a rapid pace. Indeed it has probably gone further by now than the studies in Murray’s analysis suggests. The digital audience is younger and newspapers have it in their power, especially as they improve smartphone news products, to speed the growth of that share.

But remaining print readers, described by some as hardcore and by others as geriatric, are slower than I would have thought, to read a newspaper organization’s report in both print and digital. The Scarborough report Murray highlights finds only about 30 percent of a given paper’s audience uses both print and digital (versus 15 percent digital-only and 55 percent print-only).

You can look at that division from a half-empty or half-full perspective. I agree with Murray that print continues to hold a smaller-than it-once-was but well-defined, upscale audience. These readers are attractive to advertisers. As the success of increased subscription prices shows, they are also willing to pay more than newspapers had traditionally asked.

On the other hand, advertisers may be quicker to move, in whole or in part, to digital than newspaper readers. As digital-only options proliferate, advertisers most likely will continue to scale down print budgets, to pay for more of the new. Read more

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