By Alan Miller
Associated Press Media Editors
The bad news about newspaper readership today is that circulation continues to decline. Worse news is that newspaper editors can do something to change that and they aren't doing it.
That was the message from Bill Day of the Frank N. Magid Associates media research firm in a presentation at the Associated Press Media Editors conference today in Indianapolis.
The good news is that newspaper editors and executives can address some key issues that Day says will move the needle in selling papers.
"Our wild and crazy idea is that if you build a product people like and tell them you have it, you will sell more papers," said Day, executive director of advertising effectiveness practice for Magid.
The dirty little secret, he said, is that 40 percent of Americans still read newspapers every day. And young people, particularly in smaller newspaper markets, have an affinity for the local paper and want to read it. But they often think it doesn't do a good job.
In one small market, Magid found that 61 percent of young readers say it would be a huge loss to the area if the newspaper were gone, and 47 percent said it's uniquely important to life in their community.
So to attract them and others not reading the newspaper, Day said, newspaper editors need to ask consumers what they want and how they want it.
"Just because you think it's important doesn't mean anyone else will," he said.
"We've defined our business as the bottom line and lost sight of the top. The top is when someone wakes up in the morning and decides to pick my product," he said.
Once you do market research, you should use it to build your paper, he said.
Readers want investigative reporting and in-depth stories, for example. When you give them more of it, they will buy your paper, Day said.
Beyond news content, he said, it's important to know that readers consider local advertising as content. And they tend to think newspapers don't do a very good job of presenting local advertising.
Finally, he said, distribution is a vital aspect of the equation.
If we make content improvements, Day said, "who are the people most likely to respond and how do we get the paper to them? The circulation problem is a lack of sampling. Part of the solution is to get them to engage with the paper" by making sure that people currently not reading it are seeing it.
Stop worrying about the young generation and worry about the people you lost in the past three to six months. Ask yourself what you did wrong, fix it and win them back, Day said.