A “foodie” analogy for newspapers: We are still a staple in the information diet


Marketing newspapers — and particularly newspaper advertising — is challenging today. Our brand has been damaged in perception far greater than in reality. But then again perception is reality for most individuals.

Reality is, according to the latest research (at least in the United States), the print audience on a typical Sunday is still equivalent in size to the much ballyhooed, once-a-year, Super Bowl Sunday TV broadcast.

In fact, twice as many (and then some) adults report reading the weekday print edition of a daily newspaper as report watching the ABC/NBC/CBS evening news combined. 

Perception, on the other hand, is that we are distributing newspapers into some sort of twilight zone. I have had discussions with clients who assert they can’t start the day without reading their newspaper and in the next breath say they “know” no one else reads newspapers anymore.

Ironically, our largest advertising clients (supermarkets and department, furniture, and home improvement stores) typically are in touch with reality and acknowledge that sales take a major dive anytime they reduce their ROP/preprint schedules. It is the smaller, local businesses that need reassurance and support.

That is not to say I am denying the digital audience surge or the decline of newspaper circulation or subscriptions. I am merely pointing out that reports of the demise of print are premature.

In fact, the most significant competitive advantage wielded by newspapers in the digital world is the credibility of the print news brand and our ability to cross-promote and drive traffic to our Web presentation.

But the real topic of my observations today is not a defense of the print audience and advertising efficacy. l am actually going to reference the edited and graphically presented design of the typical newspaper publication versus the typical Web site.

My thoughts are triggered by a story I read recently. The magazine market is discovering that its readers don’t care as much about fancy tablet apps and multi-media as they appreciate being able to read the actual magazine presented digitally on their tablet.

This reminded me of a discussion I had with Jeff Cohen, colleague and editor of the Times Union at the time. His observations were couched in an analogy that I am updating with a twist of my own. I have shared this perspective with clients, colleagues, and friends. It seems to resonate with all of them, especially those with experience with all of the formats.

Here it is: The consumer experience with search when looking for current news and information is like a shopping visit to the warehouse/big box food stores. Enormous environment, great opportunities if you explore thoroughly, but challenging in its scope and exhausting for many. 

Visiting a news Web site (like those offered by a newspaper or our competitors), on the other hand, is more like shopping the local supermarket. Easier to navigate, more structured, easier to get familiar with, etc.

But while it is easier to shop your grocery list and get on with your day, the supermarket visit is not regarded as the highlight of your day. It is necessary, and modern stores are making it more pleasant, but it still is a “chore.” The supermarket is not a “destination” that people look forward to.

Reading a well-edited and graphically designed publication is an altogether different experience that most industry professionals fail to appreciate. In the context of getting current news and information, reading the newspaper or a magazine is best likened to going to a restaurant.

Like the supermarket or food warehouse shopper, the goal is to get food and eat, or in this case satisfy your appetite for information.

But with the publication experience, someone else has already gone to the market, selected the best/freshest ingredients, and prepared an appetising meal for you. You have the benefit of having a professional/expert prepare your meal and all you have to do is enjoy it.

And therein lies the difference, at least in my experience with our audiences: Readers appreciate and value a good Web site, but rarely does a Web site develop the brand relationship/loyalty that the newspaper or magazine has. 

The publication is an enjoyable destination. Perhaps this is the reason time spent reading a typical edition of a newspaper or magazine is so much greater than the average length of a visit to the typical news Web site.

To capitalise on this reality, publishers need to recognise this and adapt the traditional product to the reality of the new digital media environment – especially the media buying environment.

Imagine if, over time, we could migrate our print edition audience to a digital publication environment, while also marketing the digital publication to the digital first consumer. Our editors would not be constrained by newsprint costs, and design could be expanded in page count and/or customised personally.

And the digital audience stats (page views, ad impressions) would be powerful. Think about the typical newspaper reader. They peruse/scan approximately 60% of the newspaper pages.

For the newspaper I read, last Wednesday’s digital edition (I chose Wednesday because it has a modest page count) had 65 pages (yes, in digital form you can have an odd page count!).

Scarborough reports our weekday average issue audience at just under 700,000 adults. If page views were measured, then Wednesday’s edition conceivably delivered more than 25 million page views. If there were an average of three ads per page, we served 75 million advertising impressions.

I think there is something worth exploring in this analogy and also in the digital presentation concept. Many newspapers already have a digital replica edition available. Can/do we measure page views and impressions? Are we aggressively positioning and promoting our digital publications as we do our Web sites?

I’d love to get input/perspective from others. Comment here or email me at rprovost@starledger.com.

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