Newspapers Seek New Business Plan

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, Nov. 24, 2008 12:00 am  

Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, says community newspapers can create new revenue by publishing a wider variety of products.

Papers around the country are expanding their offerings. Smith mentioned the Virginian Pilot in Norfolk, Va., which has developed more than 20 niche publications, he said. (Earlier this year, Smith confirmed that Wehco was considering buying the Pilot and several sister properties.)

Others papers take it even further.

"I know one paper that publishes 52 papers a year and publishes 50 special sections," Brian Steffens, the National Newspaper Association's executive director, said. "I think the model will be that newspapers have to have multiple products and revenue streams."

Jeff Hankins, president of Arkansas Business Publishing Group and publisher of Arkansas Business, isn't surprised that general audience newspapers are thinking about targeted audiences.

"Daily newspapers are struggling, but our niche publications have seen sales gains nearly across the board," he said.

Location, Location, Location

Large urban newspapers aren't the only ones that can benefit from adding niche publications. For instance, Larimer said, a paper in a rural community might attract new advertising dollars by producing a publication with content aimed directly at local farmers.

But growing revenue does not come as easy in shrinking towns,

The viability of a newspaper "is going to depend on the individual community," said Clark Smith, publisher of the Stuttgart Daily Leader, which publishes five days a week. "Some communities, especially those in the Delta, aren't faring this economic climate so well."

But bad economic times are not new to many Delta towns. Smith also runs the Helena Daily World, and he said Phillips County's population has declined from about 50,000 in the late 1960s to about 14,000 today. The Daily World switched from printing six days a week to five days a week in the 1980s because of the decline, Smith said, and recently dropped down to three times a week.

Smith wonders how long that can continue.

"There has to be a turnaround for Helena; otherwise it will only support a one-day or two-day," he said.



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