Newspapers show Sunday readership increases
Sunday circulation strategies pay off as publishers grow audience through more local news coverage, shopping bargains and reader engagement
Vice President of Communications
November 14, 2011
Arlington, Va. – One underreported story of the contemporary newspaper industry is the success that many newspapers are experiencing from targeted efforts to grow Sunday circulation. More consumers are recognizing the value of their Sunday products through relevant content, special promotions and community events that boost brand awareness, resulting in increased Sunday home delivery and single-copy sales.
For many papers, Sunday is the most profitable day of the week, given heavy advertising spending in both display and preprint advertising to reach a broad, local audience. In addition to the traditional Sunday print edition, newspaper publishers are launching free opt-in products to nonsubscriber audience segments highly valued by advertisers.
“Many newspapers are demonstrating that focusing on the overall value proposition of their Sunday products can deliver concrete results,” said Caroline Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The E.W. Scripps Co., Gannett Co. Inc., the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette – all recently profiled in an NAA white paper – are among newspapers and media companies that have reported varying levels of Sunday readership increases. They all have one thing in common: a concerted and strategic focus by their publishers to enhance the value of their Sunday editions.
“The latest data confirm there are a number of clear success stories emerging in terms of Sunday circulation and readership growth,” says John Murray, vice president and audience development at the Newspaper Association of America. “These are the newspapers that have made thoughtful, strategic investments in the quality of their journalism, improved their marketing expertise, and developed new distribution channels to meet consumer preferences. It also helps that the Sunday newspaper has become a great example of value in a tough consumer economy.”
Among newspapers and media companies that are reporting Sunday success stories:
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution demonstrates how newspapers focusing aggressively on local journalism are able to win the hearts and minds of Sunday readers. “The research we did showed a great hunger for deep, investigative news,” said Amy Glennon, vice president of audience. “We made some changes in our editorial pages with a new lineup of columnists to bring a balance of authoritative and strong viewpoints to the page.” Combining its focus on local journalism with operational changes in single copy and a high demand for coupons, the AJC’s Sunday circulation has risen 6.7 percent.
- One year ago, The E.W. Scripps Co. launched a concerted effort in 12 markets to craft audience development plans that have resulted in strong gains in Sunday circulation. Jim Boyd, managing director of circulation sales, explained that the plan included a sales and retention strategy at the local level for each of the 12 newspapers, backed by an increased investment to acquire and retain more customers. “Most of the effort has been a home delivery focus for us,” Boyd said. “In June 2011, for the 12 markets we were up 0.3 percent year over year in home delivery Sunday circulation and were ahead 5.4 percent in Sunday single copy.”
- Gannett Co. Inc. emphasized the importance of the Sunday product last year with a company-wide initiative that requires all departments to focus on growing Sunday circulation. The initiative included an investment in more refined sales efforts at dozens of newspapers, along with greater attention on topics of interest for local communities. Today, more adults and women read The Arizona Republic (a Gannett newspaper in Phoenix) on Sunday – 1.25 million readers versus 1.19 million in 2008 – spending an average of 65 minutes with the publication. Print paid circulation is up more than 3 percent versus the prior year, according to Michael Gorman, director of West Regional consumer sales for Gannett Publishing Services.
- The Sacramento Bee redesigned its loyalty club, now called Bee Buzz Points, to reward customers for their product interactions, including attendance at Bee-sponsored events. “Year to date, our Sunday circulation is up 3 percent and we are seeing growth in both home delivery and single-copy sales,” said Dan Schaub, senior vice president of audience development and membership services and production. “We’ve also gone to local schools, churches and community centers to give sessions on how to use coupons, how to shop using the newspaper, and to talk about the value of the paper to the community.”
- Award-winning content, reader engagement and a diversified mix of sales channels have contributed to stellar Sunday growth for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul), the seventh largest circulation Sunday newspaper in the nation. Cindy Doege, vice president of circulation, said that starting in June, the newspaper has been up 4 percent year over year for Sunday single copy. October’s year over year shows a more than 5.4 percent increase. In the last six months, the newspaper’s Sunday total circulation is up 2.7 percent, not including branded editions.
- The St. Petersburg Times was able to secure upwards of 7,000 new subscribers from households with younger demographics attractive to advertisers by running subscription offers with Groupon and Living Social – an example of how publishers are leveraging their presence in new digital channels to grow readership. The newspaper continues to invest in its editorial product, putting out no fewer than 10 different regional editions every week that cover local news and provide local advertising on Sundays. According to Craig Holley, director of consumer marketing for the St. Petersburg Times, the newspaper is up 4.9 percent year to date in Sunday total circulation due to gains in home delivery and single copy.
NAA regularly tracks and reports to its members on successful circulation marketing strategies. “Borrowing a popular movie line, we want newspapers to know that ‘if you build it, they will come,’” Murray said.
NAA is a nonprofit organization representing nearly 2,000 newspapers and their multiplatform businesses in the United States and Canada. NAA members include daily newspapers, as well as nondailies, other print publications and online products. Headquartered near Washington, D.C., in Arlington, Va., the association focuses on the major issues that affect today's newspaper industry: public policy/legal matters, advertising revenue growth and audience development across the medium's broad portfolio of products and digital platforms. Information about NAA and the industry also may be found at www.naa.org.