How optimistic are you about the future of the newspaper industry?
After surveying 1,356 weekly and daily newspapers across the country and conducting 458 telephone interviews, Mike Jenner, Houston Harte chair at the University of Missouri, has an answer: 25 percent are very optimistic, 40 percent teeter between very optimistic and neutral, 31 percent are neutral, and only 4 percent fear the worst.
Jenner discussed his findings at the 2012 New England Newspaper and Press Association Fall Conference Oct. 11 in Natick, Mass.
During his presentation, “The Bullish Outlook for Weekly Community Newspapers,” Jenner showed how some local newspapers are maintaining readers and reaching the growing digital-only audience.
The survey showed that, in the newspaper industry, size does matter. Jenner’s research showed that, overall, smaller newspapers were more confident about maintaining circulation than were larger newspapers.
Seventy-eight percent of newspapers with circulations of less than 5,000 don’t envision ending their printed publication. Just 55 percent of newspapers with circulations over 50,000 share that outlook.
Sixty-two percent of dailies said they wouldn’t stop publishing printed newspapers, and 67 percent of weeklies said they wouldn’t stop publishing theirs.
Thirty-five percent of all newspapers surveyed estimated that it would take 20 or more years before printed newspapers stopped being published. Twenty-six percent said printing newspapers would cease in 10 to 14 years.
Of the daily newspapers in the survey, 77 percent have considered dropping at least one daily edition. Seventy-six percent of them would drop the Monday edition.
Jenner found that the decline of print ad revenue was what newspapers considered their biggest threat. Declining circulation was a close second.
“We are very print-centric on where our revenue comes from,” Jenner said, commenting on current profit strategies.
Daily newspapers expect a 95 percent digital revenue increase during the next three years.
“Selling the value of the Web needs to be everyone’s priority,” Jenner said. “Eighty-two percent (of newspapers) believe that the public will pay for online content.”
Forty-seven percent of all newspapers are now charging for online content, an increase from last year’s figure of just 41 percent.
Seventy-two percent of daily and weekly newspapers offer a mobile version of their website, and almost half of all newspaper sites are optimized for tablets.
“You need your print readers to know how good the Web can be,” he said.
“There is a treasure trove of information that printed editions simply can’t provide that are available on the Web,” he said.
Public information, such as PDF documents from lawsuits, agendas, and PowerPoint presentations from town hall meetings, is online content not generally found in printed newspapers. Jenner also said the Web offers greater opportunities for breaking news and photo galleries, and can provide audio and video presentations.
Jenner cautioned that if a newspaper’s online edition is “simply a badly delivered version” of the print product, print readers won’t pay extra for it just because it’s available in digital form.
Jenner described how the Houston (Mo.) Herald exemplifies how a small newspaper can have a huge online presence. The Herald has a print circulation of 4,000, and its Facebook page has 2,700 likes, which surpasses Houston’s population by about 700.
The Herald has email newsletters, and sells a texting program that allows users to get information such as breaking news, weather, school closings and sports information texted directly to their cell phones. The Herald also has RSS feeds for most of the news sections on its website, and is available on mobile devices. The newspaper also uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Jenner stressed that newspapers have to be at the center of a community’s conversation, and increasingly, that means using social media.
“I talked to a lot of publishers, and a lot of publishers say they hate Facebook,” Jenner said.
Publishers don’t like how traffic is diverted to Facebook instead of their newspaper’s website, he said.
“We’ve got to fish where the fish are. And let’s be honest, there are probably more readers in your community who use Facebook than are on your website,” Jenner said.
“We need to focus on (the) value proposition for digital and print – in selling our value to readers and advertisers and the community,” Jenner said.
The best and safest strategy for newspapers is to “be at the center of your community’s conversation,” he said.
More than 120 people attended the Fall Conference, and most of them attended Jenner’s presentation.
Mike Jenner used graphics to help illustrate for his audience the results of his survey on attitudes in the newspaper industry.
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