A newspaper success story

Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Amid a drumbeat of negativity about the fate of newspapers in a digital age, here’s a hometown success story that might surprise you: More people are reading the print edition of the Suffolk News-Herald than ever before in our 140-year history.

By a wide margin.

We recently commissioned a couple of third-party market surveys to confirm our internal tracking numbers, which had been increasing steadily since 2007. The Circulation Verification Council and Pulse Research of America, in separate telephone surveys, found that half of Suffolk adults citywide regularly read the print edition of our newspaper. In historic Suffolk, 60 percent of adults regularly read the News-Herald, Pulse Research found.


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Add our website and magazine readers to the audience, and we regularly reach four of five Suffolk adults with news and information about Suffolk and, importantly, the marketing messages of our advertisers.

It was the loyalty of the latter that allowed us to take a calculated risk two years ago and make our newspaper free for all readers.

A few of you questioned our sanity at the time, but there was a method to our madness. The truth is that no general-interest newspaper makes much money from selling subscriptions or individual copies to readers. Most newspapers do little more in “circulation” revenue than cover the cost of paying carriers to deliver the newspaper.

Newspapers make their money and earn a profit by selling advertising.

Businesses that pay us for advertising space want eyes on their ads. Therefore, it was an easy business decision to forfeit a little bit of circulation revenue in order to attract more readers and sell more advertising.

It helps that newspaper readers are attractive consumers for many businesses. People who read newspapers tend to be better educated and more affluent than the general populace.

Two-thirds of Suffolk News-Herald readers, for example, have a household income of better than $50,000, the Circulation Verification Council found in its market study. Two-thirds of our readers have a college degree or attended college.

We had experimented with a free edition a few years earlier in North Suffolk and knew we had a good business model before going to free distribution citywide in July 2011.

For the first time in our 14 decades of publishing, more Suffolk people are reading the Suffolk News-Herald than any other print or broadcast medium.

It’s a neat fact to keep in mind the next time you read that newspapers are dying.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. Email him at steve.stewart@suffolknewsherald.com.