Is a Newspaper Turnaround Afoot?

There were a number of separate items about newspapers from the past few days. First, on the bad news front, comes a kind of early eulogy for print newspapers in Philadelphia, the first “big city” in the US that may not have a daily (stay tuned).

On a more upbeat note, the Seattle Times is back in the black and apparently growing after the demise of the print edition of the Seattle PI, although that website appears to be holding its own as well. According to the NY Times:

But less than five months later, a nearly forgotten word has crept back into Times executives’ vocabulary: profit. “On a month-to-month basis, we are starting to operate in the black,” Mr. Blethen, who is also chief executive of The Seattle Times Company, said in an interview last week.

How much black ink and by what measure, the privately held company will not say, and amid a sharp advertising downturn, no one denies that its situation remains precarious. But The Times has improved its prospects by picking up most P-I subscribers and managing to keep them so far. It says its daily circulation rose more than 30 percent, to more than 260,000 in June, from about 200,000.

Oddly enough, what remains of The P-I is also faring better than expected. The Hearst Corporation kept the paper’s Web site alive as a news operation with a small staff, heavily reliant on more than 200 unpaid bloggers who write on things as diverse as their neighborhoods, cooking and marathon running.

Last week News Corp. announced a $203 million loss and a move toward requiring users to pay for all content online, the Financial Times is toying with several pay models but the centerpiece appears to be a pay per article system:

FT.com currently offers three tiers of access to its digital content. For users who register an amount of personal information, such as their email address, 10 articles a month are accessible free of charge. There are about 1.4 million registered users of FT.com for this limited access.

An online subscription costs £150 a year, or £199 for a premium-level service that includes added content such as the Lex column . . .

“We are looking at pay per view and we do want to offer users the broadest range of options for accessing FT content on the website,” said the FT.com managing director, Rob Grimshaw. “We will progress with pay-per-view sometime over the next 12 months” . . .

However, speaking to the Guardian yesterday, Grimshaw said that it was of paramount importance to have a simple, easy payment system as had been successfully introduced by Amazon, with its “one-click” service, and iTunes.

In addition, last week, Borrell Associates said that it foresaw a modest recovery in newspaper ad revenues:

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Despite their loss of favor among techies, newspapers remain a highly trusted advertising medium among most consumers (per Nielsen, 4/09)

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Finally, here are some new metrics from the NAA (based on data collected by MORI research and Nielsen):

  • Newspaper Readers Seek Out Advertising Content: Nearly six in 10 adults (59 percent) identify newspapers as the medium they use to help plan shopping or make purchase decisions.
  • Newspaper Readers are Involved: 41 percent of U.S. adults say newspapers are the medium used most to check out ads – more than radio TV, Internet, magazines and catalogs combined.
  • Newspaper Readers Take Action: 82 percent of U.S. adults took some action as a result of a print newspaper ad in the past 30 days: 61 percent clipped a coupon, 50 percent bought something advertised and 52 percent visited a store.
  • Newspaper Readers Value Insert Advertising: 73 percent of adults regularly or occasionally read newspaper inserts, and 82 percent have been spurred to action by a newspaper insert in the past month.

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