Newspapers confront their circulation problems

Every six months, we hear from the Audit Bureau of Circulations that newspaper circulation has declined yet again. This isn’t exclusively bad news.
While some of the circulation decline is due to the continuing slow-burn generational crisis, some it appears to be due to needed corrections in the composition of newspaper circulation.
At an NAA conference this summer, I stated that if I were the publisher of a daily newspaper, my first move would be to clean out my circulation and focus on quality, rather than quantity. Alan Mutter over at Reflections of a Newsosaur seems to be headed in the same direction. Many in the industry understand this what look like extra-lousy circulation numbers are the result of clearer thinking by newspaper publishers.
The web provides publishers with the opportunity to segment not only their audiences, but their news. It’s important to stop thinking about fulfilling your promise to your advertisers and fulfill your promise to your readers. Think about what well-defined audience will be reading the paper edition in ten years, and aim for that market today. The online edition becomes the way to micro-target neighborhoods and communities that are poorly served by major metro dailies, as well as a way to promote the stories that genuinely matter to a regional audience.
As a former magazine circulation manager in a couple of well-run publishers, my first encounter with a newspaper circulation department was a rude awakening. What I found was a mass of poor direct marketing practice, bad CRM, and just plain junk circulation ginned up to meet the ratebase. A great deal of the junk was kind of shoved into place to maintain circulation numbers that were the heritage of a different era — when newsprint was a lot cheaper, and a man didn’t feel fully dressed unless he was wearing a hat.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.