For more than 30 years, the Toronto Star, through our Newspaper in Education (NIE) programme and with donations from our subscribers, has subsidised the cost of newspaper subscriptions to schools in our delivery area.
In fact, even with vacation donations from subscribers, our annual expenses to operate our NIE programme have exceeded revenue from school subscriptions.
No one would argue against making newspaper subscriptions more affordable to schools. However, in a time when most newspapers are experiencing declines in revenue and readership, we had to take a serious look at how we ran our NIE programme and ask a tough question: Is this sustainable?
The answer was easy; taking a financial loss in NIE year over year was definitely not sustainable.
For the 2013-14 school year, our objective was to break even in NIE. And, on top of that, our goal was to achieve this without relying on vacation donations from subscribers.
The only way to accomplish this objective was to increase the price of a school subscription to cover the cost of operating our NIE programme. We realised this could potentially mean a significant drop in school subscriptions and reduced circulation from NIE.
Although we could no longer offer schools a deeply discounted print subscription, we did invest in developing four newspaper-based, custom-teaching workbooks as an added value for our NIE subscribers.
In addition, we also offered Star ePaper subscriptions as a more cost-effective option for schools. We also included digital access to thestar.com with our NIE subscriptions, so schools could access our Web site content.
The results: As expected, we saw a drop in paid school subscriptions. Surprisingly, though, the decline was not as great as projected.
Did we receive complaints about the price increase? Of course! But most teachers were very understanding when we explained they were still receiving a discounted special rate that covered the basic cost of printing and delivery.
Educators use newspapers like a daily textbook in the classroom; they provide a fresh source of reliable news and information every day. The changes we made solidify the fact that people are willing to pay for things they value.
Maybe your NIE programme doesn’t require this type of major overhaul. But it couldn’t hurt to do the math to see if there are any additions you can make to your programme to add value to schools or subtract processes that aren’t supporting your business objectives.