Single-copy sales need dose of innovation to drive circulation revenue

One very important audience for newspapers — and possibly the one that is shrinking the fastest — is the single-copy buyer. At most newspapers, single-copy declines are often in the double digits and nothing that media companies do seem to be turning this trend around nationally.

Yet, single-copy circulation volume continues to be an important part of the audience and revenue mix, and is still very valuable to advertisers — especially preprint advertisers.

According to the 2012 NAA Circulation Facts, Figures and Logic, single copy makes up around 13% of daily paid circulation and 20% on Sunday. The most common price charged for a newspaper is US$1 daily and US$2 on Sunday. Single-copy sales still make up a significant portion of a newspaper’s audience and circulation volume. 

According to NAA, over-the-counter sales now make up 75% of single-copy sales overall. People just don’t carry enough change to buy newspapers out of a coin rack anymore. Unfortunately, single-copy price increases have also driven down per-location sales.

The good news, however, is that single copy continues to be a viable circulation revenue driver. But it does take innovation and promotion.

I recently attended the 360 Media Alliance Mega Summit in St. Louis. The Mega Summit, now in its second year, is a wonderful symposium that focuses on audience, data, and digital and print engagement.

This year there were two very good presentations related to single-copy sales.

One was by Kurt M. Welu, single-copy sales manager for the Omaha World Herald. Welu comes to the newspaper with a background in product development and promotion and spoke of the importance of the newspaper retail presence.

Think, for example, about the beer display at the front of your local grocery store. Likely, this display is a behemoth; and it probably is designed to look like a football stadium, or is set up under a 10-feet-by-10-feet canopy with lounge chairs and a barbeque.

In other words, IT STANDS OUT! 

Taking a more classic marketing approach and focusing on the five Ps of marketing (product, price, place, people and promotion) has driven single-copy sales at The Omaha World Herald, and many days of the week are up year over year.

Another great presentation was by Bill Ostendorf, founder of Creative Circle, a company that helps newspapers re-design their products to maximise reader satisfaction and sales. He spoke about how most newspapers produce their front pages without taking the reader — and especially the single-copy reader — in mind and how, with a few relatively small changes to the front page, a newspapers will increase sales. 

Newspapers around the United States are doing great things to drive single-copy revenue. In the past few months, I’ve seen some very innovative and creative campaigns with quite impressive results:

• Most American newspapers have capitalised on Thanksgiving and on the “Black Friday” shopping phenomenon. The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Alabama, takes this one step further by hitting the streets on the night before Thanksgiving with employee hawkers at eight single-copy locations.

According to Troy Niday, executive director of operations for Advance Central Services Alabama, the hawking programme alone resulted in close to 9,000 sales, and readers get to interact with employees from the newspaper, which is invaluable! 

• One of the most innovative experiments I’ve seen comes from the South Bend Tribune, which replaced around 12 of its single-copy boxes with a digital kiosk. According to NetNewsCheck, “ …the kiosks will run a combination of the newspapers headlines, tweets, live radar, video and other content, punctuated by advertisements.”

Each kiosk can be customised to the audience it serves, which will enable advertisers to target their best prospects, as well. The Tribune will use the kiosks to promote current-day headlines, special sections and other features that readers may be interested in. In other words, the digital kiosk will provide a wonderful way for the tribune to promote the print products and other initiatives, while generating revenue from the kiosk itself. 

The Omaha World Herald capitalised on the University of Nebraska Huskers in a campaign called “Build-A-Husker” that enabled readers to build their own 5-feet-tall poster of a Huskers player posing in the special uniforms they wore against Wisconsin.

Each day during the week, readers received a different section of the puzzle. The World Herald promoted this through point-of-purchase displays and on social media. Extra buzz was created when local radio stations talked about the promotion. 

In his Bottom-Line Marketing blog a couple of weeks ago, Phil Schroeder, vice president of audience at the Tacoma News-Tribune wrote an article about couponing and how that has helped single-copy (and home delivery) sales.

Schroeder points out that the demographics of coupon users mirror that of newspaper readers. The Tacoma News-Tribune incorporates coupon value into their single copy displays, which has improved sales, especially on Sunday.

The New Zealand Herald celebrated its 150th birthday by giving away 150 prizes, including a US$72,000 Mercedes-Benz. Other prizes included smart phones, cameras, and designer jewelry. Each day, The Herald printed a code in its print edition, which readers texted or entered at the newspapers bespoke microsite.

The contest resulted in 200,000 entries in two weeks, and a lift of 20,000 single copy sales. 

Newspapers are approaching single copy as one of many audiences that they serve. By understanding that audience — what they like and what appeals to them as an occasional print reader — newspapers have the opportunity to not only “shore up,” but to grow single copy into a solid revenue driver and merchandising mechanism.

This mechanism provides newspaper with the opportunity to convert that audience into regular consumers of all the content and platforms that newspapers have to offer. 

About Dan Johnson

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