The newspaper industry has been getting some bad press. Reports of its imminent collapse have been circulating for years, but it is an industry that is alive and aggressively positioning itself for future success.
Certainly the economy and the shifting media landscape have not been kind to publishers’ bottom lines, and one-time cash cows such as classifieds have declined dramatically. But publishers aren’t suddenly facing up to these changes. They’ve been working for years to transform their enterprises through new products, new organizational structures and new business models.
“There’s this perception that the industry is a deer in the headlights. But it has been aggressive in seeking out new opportunities and models,” says Randy Bennett, SVP of business development of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). “Newspapers continue to innovate to provide more efficient and effective ways for advertisers to reach desired audience segments.”
Bennett points out that the newspapers have always been early technology adopters, and their investments in building out a presence on new platforms—such as smartphones, tablets, social media and e-readers—have paid off. He notes that almost three-quarters of Internet adults access newspaper content across platforms and devices in an average week, and more than 100 million adults read newspapers in print or online every weekday.
“Newspaper media are no longer just about mass reach,” says Bennett. “They’re developing new products and services that can provide greater ROI for advertisers and let them reach their target. Newpapers really are the right vehicle for that.”
Many of the newest business models are looking more closely at newspaper advertising return on investment. “Advertisers are demanding ROI. They have so many choices to reach customers,” says Bennett. “Media has to prove it is delivering value.”
The Tribune Company, for example, is partnering with a number of other newspapers on an ROI-focused program to match newspaper print and digital subscriber data to advertiser customer and sales data so it can track lift. More than 30 national advertisers have signed up to get access to these analytics. Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News is testing what it calls “ROI pricing” for its print and digital products, including implementing a pay-per-call program specifically for customers looking to drive telephone leads, since calls are typically more valuable than clicks for these companies.
“The Dallas Morning News is focused on providing additional value to our advertising customers by developing tailored solutions to help them reach their best prospects,” says Jim Moroney, the paper’s publisher and CEO. “Newspapers are aggressively innovating to provide increased ROI to advertisers, beyond selling print and digital impressions.”
Other newspapers are becoming more service-oriented and consultative, taking on many of the duties of full-service digital agencies that can take advantage of both local focus and national opportunity. The Denver Post and parent Digital First Media have created AdTaxi, a digital ad network that packages and optimizes inventory to reach targeted audiences across media platforms (both newspaper and non-newspaper).
Another opportunity for newspapers is to reach what Bennett calls “non-traditional” advertisers, primarily small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Newspapers are developing integrated programs to serve SMBs with online directory listings, SEO services, social marketing, print inserts, e-commerce capabilities and more. Lee Enterprises, with 48 daily newspapers in mostly mid-sized markets, recently started the “Get It! Social” program to help SMBs manage their social media presence.
Newspapers continue to come up with original print solutions as well, says Bennett. New creative ad units help messages stand out. Content sponsorships align brands with specific print and online content. Integrated solutions combine print, digital, events and even competitive media options such as radio. “Advertisers know newspapers work. Newspapers are working harder to deliver valuable audiences anywhere, anytime,” he adds.