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Growing readership

By Kevin Slimp
CEO, newspaperacademy.com

“Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come.”

I’m in a positive mood concerning the newspaper industry. After the past couple of weeks, I continue to see incredibly upbeat signs about things happening in our business.

For the first time in 18 months, I spoke at a live convention last week in Des Moines, Iowa. Meeting with community newspaper publishers and journalists from throughout the United States lifted my spirits. There wasn’t a lot of time for personal visits. I was scheduled to speak for 75 minutes seven times during the two-day event. However, I managed to squeeze in meetings with publishers from South Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, New York, Idaho, and other places to discuss what’s happening at their papers.

There was no “doom and gloom” in these conversations. There were several “I’m starting a new paper and want your advice” and “I want to get more training for my staff” conversations. There were a few “I’m updating my newsroom and would like your thoughts” conversations. While I wasn’t crazy about stepping onto a plane and meeting in person with COVID-19 still hanging around, I left inspired by how these newspapers are moving forward.

Speaking of moving forward, redesign seems to be on a lot of papers’ minds these days. While working on a redesign for a friend’s paper in Tennessee in September, I received a phone call from another publisher friend whose paper I redesigned three years ago.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “we’ve grown in subscribers since doing the redesign three years ago. I waited for him to continue, “but counter sales have been dismal” or something along those lines. Instead, there was an “and” statement. “And we’ve had a healthy increase in counter sales, as well.”

“I know there’s a lot more to it than just the redesign,” he continued, “but the redesign has had a lot to do with our growth.”

Boom! Wow! Now that’s a phone call.

Tony Cox, the publisher who called, is constantly working to increase readership at his papers in Clinton and Farragut, Tennessee. He still does things papers used to do back in the heyday to increase readership. I’ve known Tony from his work with paid and free newspapers, and he’s always working on ways to gain new readers.

SAMPLE - Subscription offer for Tennessee Courier News

This is a sample of the promotion flyer sent with papers to homes by the Clinton (Tennessee) Courier News.

In a conversation a few days ago, he told me about using sampling to grow his readership base. “Old school sampling still works. We’ve added 31 new subscriptions in 35 days.” He went on to say, “The first weeks were done using good ole USPS delivery. The next week was done using saturation of a newspaper carrier route” (by a nearby metro paper). Each week has netted new subscribers the following day, meaning a person actually wrote a check and stuck it in the mail.”

Tony added they also received subscribers through their website after folks received a free paper. “I was really impressed,” he told me. “That’s an immediate return.”

I asked Tony if he had advice for other papers trying to grow circulation, and he had plenty.

“Circulation efforts require effort 52 weeks per year,” he told me.

Something else he said brought back memories of the movie “Field of Dreams.” “If you build it,” he began, “it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come. You have to invite them.”

Amen to that, Tony.

Growing interest in Affinity

Another topic that doesn’t seem to be going away is interest in Affinity Publisher, the software is giving Adobe InDesign a run for its money. While in Des Moines, several publishers asked if I thought moving from InDesign or QuarkXpress to Publisher was a good idea. Since returning home, I’ve heard from other publishers asking the same question at both free and paid newspapers.

I’ll tell you what I’ve told them. If you have a relatively straightforward editorial/design process that doesn’t use XML tags (often used by third-party classified systems), it might be worth ordering a copy of Publisher for $55 and having one of your designers give it a spin. If your composition is heavily dependent on XML tags and InDesign libraries, however, I’d suggest sticking with InDesign for the time being.

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Kevin Slimp is founder of newspaperacademy.com and The University of Tennessee Newspaper Institute. In 2017, he founded Market Square Publishing. Kevin has been a popular speaker and consultant in the newspaper industry since developing the PDF remote printing method in the mid 1990s. Catch Kevin’s upcoming webinar schedule at newspaperacademy.com. You can reach Kevin at kevin@kevinslimp.com.