How the Deseret News nearly doubled its Sunday print circulation

INMA | Deseret News

With an average Sunday circulation of 160,617, the Deseret News isn't among the Top 25 U.S. newspapers. But that circulation represents a 102 percent increase over the previous year, and unlike many newspapers that reported circulation gains last week, the Salt Lake City paper's numbers aren't grotesquely juiced by paid digital editions -- average Sunday print circ nearly doubled, from 69,059 in March 2011 to 129,314 this year. Average daily circulation was up nearly 15 percent overall, though print declined from 52,814 to 47,615.

The competing Salt Lake Tribune, with which the Deseret News shares a joint operating agreement, gained in average Sunday circulation, too, from 126,525 to 140,628, counting 41,115 paid digital and "branded editions"; its average print circulation on Sundays declined from 107,115 to 99,513. Its average daily circulation declined slightly, from 113,032 to 110,546.

Clark Gilbert, Deseret News' president and CEO, gave a speech at INMA's "World Congress" conference Monday and handed out what he said was the Deseret's recipe for growth. His digital sales ideas -- hire digital natives to sell digital, for instance, aren't a cry in the wilderness, but his ideas of differentiating a paper by its content are interesting:

In the area of content, the Deseret News has identified a set of issues — such as strengthening family, faith in the community, financial responsibility, and care for the poor — that the newspaper goes all in to cover.

Deseret is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In an interview with Poynter's Rick Edmonds in 2010, Gilbert talked about how "the church connection provides an unusual opportunity to build beyond the typical local audience," Edmonds wrote. Gilbert told Edmonds the Mormon diaspora "gives us a chance for a world-wide audience — 60 percent of [Deseret's Web] traffic is not Utah-based.”

But that doesn't explain the print growth. Gilbert told the conference, as the unbylined post recapping his talk put it, that "Deseret News’ national Sunday edition is found throughout much of the United States, especially in the eastern United States. Gilbert credited the newspaper’s popularity to readers who are mainly part of faith- and family-oriented audiences looking for media that fit their views."

Deseret News' website is organized around the topics Gilbert laid out in the talk, with local news and sports, sections for money, family and faith stories, and conservative opinion pages. The content strategy translates to Deseret Media Companies' Spanish paper, OKEspañol, which the company is softly positioning as a national paper, too.

Gilbert was once a professor at Harvard Business School; he told Edmonds in 2010 that “There never was a great business model for news content.” In that interview, he likened many newspapers' digital strategies to early cars that were designed to look like stage coaches. The Deseret News' Web traffic is decent (2,562,403 unique users in March, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations). But it seems like its stage coach is doing pretty nicely, too.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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