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Are newspapers regaining their mojo? Subscriptions rise

Newspapers across the country gained readers in the last six months, according to new figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Digital subscriptions are a big part of it.
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Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributor on

Newspapers are dead. Finished. Washed up. Blah, blah, blah. Okay, that's enough of the conventional wisdom. Now for the story behind the doom-and-gloom narrative: newspaper readership is actually up.

The Poynter Institute's Andrew Beaujon reports that "newspapers across the country gained readers in the last six months, compared to the same period a year ago, according to new figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Nationally, daily circulation was up about a percent for digital and print at 618 papers reporting; Sunday circulation was up 5% at the 532 papers reporting.

Digital circulation represents the new frontier for newspapers. On average, digital circulation now accounts for 14% of newspapers’ total circulation mix, up from 9% in March 2011. (Digital circulation may be tablet or smartphone apps, PDF replicas, metered or restricted-access websites, or e-reader editions.)

The New York Times reported a 73% gain in circulation fueled in large part by digital gains. In fact, the Times’ daily digital subscribers exceed its daily print subscribers, Beaujon relates. The Orange County Register posted a 53% percent rise in daily circulation, the highest after The New York Times. The New York Daily News reports a 9% increase in circulation, with about 20% digitized. About 25% of the Wall Street Journal's base is digital.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune -- given up for dead four years ago -- is one newspaper that has seen a turnaround as of late, as reported by the Nieman Journalism Center's Justin Ellis. The newspaper has been regaining subscribers, as it aggressively pursues a combined print and digital strategies.

"Since launching digital subscriptions in fall 2011, the Star Tribune now has 18,000 digital subscribers. (The Star Tribune has a meter model that allows 20 free stories a month.) Overall subscription revenue is up 7.5 percent in the first half of this year from a year ago, Michael Klingensmith, publisher, said. 'We’re trying to transform the nature of the subscriber relationship,” he said. “You no longer subscribe to the paper or an app. You subscribe to the Star Tribune brand.'”

Both digital and print subscribers get engagement with the entire brand, versus the piecemeal approach offered by other media outlets. "Klingensmith said he thinks that approach has a limited ceiling for revenue," the report states. "Rather than break up your audience and allow them to have dissociated relationships with your company, create a product that appeals to various parts of your audience while giving them a door to the rest of your work."

Newspapers still have a monumental struggle ahead as they navigate the shift to the digital economy. As media entrepreneur Eric Beecher put it in an interview with Knowledge@Australian School of Business, "Generation Y and its successors are unlikely to buy hard-copy newspapers on a large scale: 'They don't have the habit. The habit they do have is using online (formats) and not just online, but tablets and mobiles. They're also used to getting most stuff for nothing. If they're used to that, why would they ever turn around and say, 'oh gee, I'm now going to go and spend A$2 a day and buy this piece of newsprint where the ink comes off in my hand.'" Then there's the advertising side, continues to undergo a significant shift to new media.

In many ways, newspapers are becoming part of the new media scene, in some ways indistinguishable from television news networks. With such converged media, if you go to a newspaper site such as USA Today and Wall Street Journal, and watch videos of breaking news, interviews, or special interest stories. Is USA Today or Wall Street Journal now a broadcast network?

Similarly, if you go to CBS News, or CNN, you can read text stories. Is CBS News or CNN now a newspaper?  Does the difference even matter anymore? The distinctions between newspapers and broadcast networks are no longer so clear.

(Photo by the author.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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