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Caroline Little is stepping down as CEO and President of Newspaper Association of America

littleCaroline LIttle will be leaving her job as president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America at the end of August, NAA announced this afternoon.

She will have been head of the industry trade association for just over four years when she departs.

Little is a lawyer and served as publisher/CEO of Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive and then as CEO of the Guardian’s North America operations before joining NAA in 2011. Her background as a digital executive figured in her being hired to succeed John Sturm who served 16 years and was a lawyer and experienced lobbyist.

I reached Little by phone, and asked what she expects to do next. “I don’t really have any future plans right now,” she replied, except moving to Sante Fe, “where I have a husband, a child and a dog — in that order.”

As industry’s revenues have fallen, NAA has sharply downsized.  Sturm was at one time paid north of $1 million and the association had more than 100 employees.  It’s current staff directory lists only 13 professionals (with five more being added), and Little confirmed one of her tasks was to outsource functions to save money.

During Little’s tenure the American Press Institute was merged with NAA’s own community foundation. Both had substantial endowments but outdated missions.  API, with a separate board, hired Tom Rosenstiel as its executive director, and he has changed API from a training organization to a research and think tank mission.

At the end of Sturm’s term and beginning of Little’s, NAA also collapsed three annual conferences to one, now called mediaXchange, whose most recent edition was held in Nashville earlier this month, and typically draws more than 1,000 attendees. (Disclosure:  I have worked on the last two conference programs as a paid consultant).

Little has been at times criticized  – for instance by David Boardman, Temple journalism school dean and former Poynter National Advisory Board chairman — for painting an overly rosy picture of the industry.

On balance, I think it’s a bad rap  – part of a trade association head’s job is to identify the positives and deflect excessive pessimism.

Little told a Harvard-based oral history project in 2013 that she and the NAA board stopped reporting quarterly revenue figures, as I had suspected, to avoid being beaten up so often by negative news.  Annual industry results are due in several weeks and will almost certainly show another loss in total revenues as big print advertising declines persist.

When I asked how the industry had evolved during her time, Little said, “as the revenue mix has changed, people are much more willing to experiment  – there is a lot more transformation than before.”

And will newspapers still be around in another four years?  “No doubt…The mix of circulation (shifting to digital) will continue to change.  But the core of what newspapers do is not going away.” Read more

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At NAA’s Nashville extravaganza, tough issues surface through the glitz

naa-logo As hard times for revenue continue,
I went to the Newspaper Association of America’s annual mediaXchange conference looking for a read on where the industry’s head is at.

I thought I found the sense of this meeting, the seventh I’ve attended, at a session last Monday on social media.  It was held in a stuffy room, a bit too small, hard to enter and exit.  Nonetheless the likes of Washington Post president Stephen Hills, New York Times Co, Vice Chairman Michael Golden and Boston Globe owner John Henry were elbowing their way into the standing room only crowd.

Which to me says — though don’t look for this to be a NAA conference theme line — “we have a lot to learn.”

For their trouble, the publishers got some fairly generic social media basics — “make a true brand of your stars,” “get conversational,” “consider video.”  The Facebook representative conceded “working with us is not the easiest” but promised free analytic tools for cooperating organizations. On a lighter note, the Buzzfeed exec noted that The Ten Commandments may have been the original listicle.

And the final takeaway, courtesy vendor Kim Wilson of Social Media Desk, was that publishers may need for now to get into the game to keep pace with their audience but, lacking the huge traffic numbers of Facebook or Buzzfeed, defer monetization.

I mention this undertone of tough issues because on the surface — with a half-dozen country acts and ample stage time for Nashville business owners and politicians — the conference may have looked more feel good than dig deep.  As best I could tell, Net News Check’s Micheal Depp and I were the only outside media to show up.

Indeed the fiddling-while-the-industry-smolders motif got literal at the opening Chairman’s dinner Sunday where the entertainment was the Professors of Bluegrass, a group including Hills’ brother and (so-help-me) the president of Yale University.

However earlier that day at a pre-conference symposium on audience development, Morris Communications Jeff Hartley gave a sober assessment of the state of metered paywalls. The vast majority of visitors never hit the monthly story limit, and only a fifth of those who hit the limit accept a subscription offer. Also print subscribers are typically resistant to registering for digital access, and a majority of those who do choose not to use it.

None of that indicates paid digital has been a failure.  Paywalls and subscription price increases have taken industry circulation revenues up around 10 percent on average over the last three years.  But there remains plenty of uncharted territory on where to go next, how to mix premium paid products with audience building free offers.

At the same symposium, the audience specialists heard a persuasive talk from Mark Stanley of Gensys on customer service.  “Stop trying to delight your customers,” he said. What they want instead is “an effortless experience” — a quick and satisfactory resolution to their problem.

So it’s a dubious saving to contract an offshore call center to resolve complaints about misdelivered papers.  And as several subsequent speakers noted, slow-to-load, hard-to-navigate sites or payment systems will drive potential customers away.

Mobile and millennials got heavy attention.  A number of speakers were positive and deferential: Vox Founder Jim Bankoff said his family of seven sites, aimed at the under 40 crowd, mimics the traditional section organization of newspapers.

However popular digital futurist Amy Webb was blunt: “A lot of things you guys think are innovative are well into the mainstream,” she said.  Recent analysis of smart phone use, Webb said, show users not only going to the device 50 or 60 times a day for sessions of two minutes or so but making “visual decisions [of whether to continue] in less than three seconds.”

An engaging three-second tease into a news story sounds like a mighty tight squeeze to engineer.  I also heard the publishers getting slightly conflicting advice on whether to embrace “news snacks,” or place their bets on quality content, preferably with a component of emotional involvement.

From the presentations and separate conversation with execs, I heard a lot of interest in verticals — both as a strategy to attract digital users, some of them new readers, and to sell targeted ads and sponsorships at a premium over rock-bottom general interest banner rates.

As one would expect, there was also a good deal of talk of personalization of news and ad content, the concept often loosely referred to as “big data.”  But former publisher and pr/advertising exec Brian Tierney cautioned against crossing over to “the creepiness factor.” For instance Google and competitor platforms can now harvest personal information from your calendar and emails, but  it would trigger privacy objections if they or news organizations acted on that information.

A final challenge I heard repeatedly is how newspaper organizations can get scale right. For instance, Bankoff almost as an aside, mentioned that Vox built out a content management system to fit its needs early on, ditto Vice and Buzzfeed.  Only the biggest of newspaper organizations can afford to do the same.  And they have not always gotten it right on the first or second try.

For that and related new opportunities like video, platoons of vendors are standing by to help.  But besides needing to shop very carefully, newspaper organizations are entering into a series of revenue splits when they need to hog new revenue streams to counter print ad losses.

In the end, I also don’t begrudge the industry some loud music and celebration.  As the NAA met in a Nashville, a new independent study was published judging American newspapers to be resilient and profitable, though much smaller than they used to be.

I think the publishers headed home with a lot of work to do, but with good focus on what lies ahead — and not anywhere near dead as doomsayers had predicted five years ago.

(Disclosures:  I do some paid consulting on the NAA conference program.  Poynter currently has digital training contracts with McClatchy, Scripps and Gannett). 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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NAA’s new chairman says newspaper biz should have collaborated sooner

NetNewsCheck | NAA | Financial Times

At the Newspaper Association of America’s mediaXchange conference Tuesday, Robert Dickey, the president of Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing division, said U.S. papers should have collaborated more before the meteor hit:

As they looked forward, the publishers also took a step back when asked what advice they would’ve offered to their predecessors in the industry 15 years ago.

“At the time when we had the cash flow, we should have been much more aggressive about a product development mentality around digital,” Dickey says, noting he would’ve begged for more collaboration across the industry.

“If you look at what we’re competing against, had the industry gotten together those ideas should’ve been ours,” he says.

NAA announced Monday that Dickey had been elected its chairman. Washington Post executive Stephen Hills was also elected to a spot on the board. In a neat bit of symmetry, Hills yesterday spoke with Financial Times reporter Emily Steel about the Post’s new partnership program with other publishers, which gives subscribers to other newspapers access to the Post’s website and app.

New Post owner Jeff Bezos “is asking the question of: ‘What can you do to have a great digital audience 10 years, 20 years from now?’” Hills told Steel. “Under previous ownership, the very reasonable question we were asking was: ‘How do we make money in the next two to three years?’” Read more

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The New York Times and The Wall Street Jounal are displayed at a newsstand on Monday, July 28, 2008 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

USA Today’s circulation up 67 percent? Newspaper industry makes comparisons increasingly difficult

Alliance for Audited Media

Circulation in September 2013 rose at The New York Times, flattened at The Wall Street Journal and skyrocketed at USA Today, according to figures released Thursday by the Alliance for Audited Media. AAM is no longer releasing lists of the nation’s largest newspapers, citing “the change to comparative five-day averages” as more newspapers change their print publishing schedules. In fact, the new figures make many comparisons challenging.

Take USA Today, whose average Monday-Friday circulation rose an eye-popping 67 percent in September 2013, from 1,713,833 the year before to 2,876,586. Its print circulation, however, fell 19 percent year-over-year. USA Today’s averages include 1,545,364 digital replica and non-replica editions, up 1,690 percent from the 86,307 it counted in September 2012 (not to mention 14,357 branded editions).

The New York Times’ average Sunday circulation rose nearly 14 percent over the year before. Average Monday-Friday circulation rose nearly 18 percent, from 1,613,865 to 1,897,890. But print circulation fell 2 percent year-over-year on Sundays, and nearly 6 percent on weekdays.

The New York Times Co. Thursday reported it had 727,000 digital subscribers in the third quarter of 2013, up 28 percent over the same period the year before. Circulation revenue long ago passed advertising revenue at the New York Times Co. It was up nearly 5 percent in the third quarter and is up 6.5 percent for the first nine months of 2013. Advertising revenue is down by nearly the same percentage over the first three quarters.

The Wall Street Journal’s average Monday-Friday circulation was essentially flat, falling a little under 1 percent over the year before, from 2,293,798 to 2,273,767. Read more

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NAA turns feisty, boasting of ad effectiveness and digital subscription success

The Newspaper Association of America’s annual mediaXchange conference is always part industry promotion, an occasion for expressions of confidence. But at this year’s edition in Orlando last week, those sentiments had a fighting edge.

Outgoing chairman Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of the Dallas Morning News, chose a medley of down-home, don’t-mess-with-Texas aphorisms to open the conference. He said he was ready to bet against the “gaggle of self-proclaimed experts,” predicting the industry’s imminent demise that “print newspapers will still be around in 10 years” and that they will report their “first year-to-year increase in revenues (since the mid-2000s) by this time next year.”

Moroney, affectionately called “the Nutty Professor” by a later presenter, added that the industry should “open barrels of whoopass” on its critics and “ignore the Eeyores.”

In a similar vein, Moroney’s successor, Robert Nutting, CEO of Ogden Newspapers, said later in the conference: “We need to be our own evangelists; we need to get some of our swagger back.”

So what’s the case for swagger?

The NAA had commissioned a pair of studies documenting print ad effectiveness. One, an update of “How America Shops and Spends” by Frank N. Magid Associates, found that one-third of newspaper non-readers (those who read less than once a week) nonetheless use newspaper advertising, especially preprints and coupons in planning shopping.

A new study by Nielsen found that newspaper ads, compared to those in other media, are better remembered and more often acted upon, especially on key shopping occasions like Black Friday. And they were judged by those surveyed as “less annoying” than TV and digital counterparts.

In a separate session on new newspaper owner-investors, Terry Kroeger, who runs Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway group, was guarded on specific numbers but said the company had “an outstanding first quarter.” There should be more light this week on whether revenues and earnings are indeed trending upward as Gannett and the New York Times Co. report first quarter results.

Not surprisingly, the conference also highlighted the success of digital subscription plans and the 5 percent increase in circulation revenues they prompted in 2012.

Two different speakers from Gannett said that the company did deep research on the perceived value of newspapers before deciding on steep price increase for both print and print + digital bundles. Typically readers thought they were paying 50 to 200 percent more than they actually were. So why not charge accordingly?

I have argued in past posts that a hidden benefit of bundled print+digital subscription plans is that the industry will be well-positioned over time as reader preferences among platforms shift. For instance, a swing from laptop/desktop to mobile, as many are predicting for the several years, would be a non-event from a subscription point of view for the many subscribers now getting some form of all-access.

Consultant Matt Lindsay of Mather Economics, expressed a similar idea in a different fashion: part of the charm of the bundled model, he said, is that different subscribers can value the component parts differently and still be satisfied.

As a longtime New York Times print subscriber, for instance, I may see $50 of the $70 I pay a month as covering seven days a week of print home-delivery, the other $20 buying unlimited digital access. A young digital-first reader, who gets the less pricey digital and Sunday print option may have the reverse sense of what each is worth.

So I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that with metered paywalls and bundled subs, the industry has successfully transitioned to a new business model for collecting revenue from subscribers — more of them all the time are paying not just for the paper but for access to content whenever and on whatever platform they want.

The advertising side of the equation is trickier. Panelists at the conference typically reported that page views have gone down some since they put in a paywall but that digital advertising has held steady or increased. But Jerry Hill, Gannett’s top circulation director (and a colleague from his years at Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times) pointed out that there also is an indirect tradeoff in losing paid print subscribers and some print revenues, especially those from preprints. And, of course, print ads are still more lucrative than digital.

That is worth considering as companies boast of gains in digital subs and circulation revenues. Successful in their own terms, the new subscription plans may be contributing to continued advertising losses on the print side.

I came away from mediaXchange marking two other key issues in the category of unfinished business.

Through the NewsRight licensing agency the industry created, it continues to work on deals to collect royalties from aggregators for recycling and profiting from expensive-to-produce content newspapers originate. But content licensing is a complex matter legally and technologically and revenue success to date appears modest.

Similarly, the search for mobile ads to accompany the boom in audience for smart phones and tablets remains in an early stage.

George Bell, president and CEO of Jumptap, a leading mobile targeting vendor, said the industry’s audience has grown 10 times as quickly as the Internet did on desktop/laptop, and that both advertisers and publishers have years to go in developing effective marketing strategies.

“When people ask what inning we are in,” Bell said, “that’s the wrong metaphor. It is really more like asking a team to shift from playing baseball to playing soccer.” Read more

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Little named Newspaper Association of America president

Romenesko Misc.
Caroline Little, 51, draws upon more than 25 years of executive and legal experience, serving most recently as CEO/North America of Guardian News and Media Ltd. Before taking that job in 2008, Little was with Washington Post Newsweek Interactive (WPNI). During her last four years there she served as publisher and CEO. Little succeeds John Sturm, who is retiring from NAA after 16 years as president. Read more

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