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Democrat-Gazette Looks To Increase Circulation

3 min read

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has been showing off a bit in a series of house ads — advertisements promoting a publication’s owner — focusing on Sunday circulation numbers, the paper’s news-heavy content and its $21.7 million investment in iPads and training for those who subscribe.

“Thank you, Arkansas, for supporting quality journalism, objective news and a diversity of opinions in a complete newspaper,” a June 11 ad said, adding that the Democrat-Gazette’s Sunday circulation was 53,650 in September, according to the Alliance for Audited Media in Chicago.

That circulation number includes the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and it outstrips well-known regional papers like the Orlando Sentinel (45,867), the Cincinnati Enquirer (44,750), the Miami Herald (27,077) and the Commercial Appeal of Memphis (20,040). Daily general-interest newspaper circulation has cratered nationwide. But the Democrat-Gazette’s numbers, while nowhere close to the 178,000 Sunday subscribers it once had, have stayed comparatively strong.

Readers pay $34 a month for a subscription, more than $400 a year, and get full digital access, an iPad on which to read the newspaper’s digital replica edition and a hold-it-in-your-hands newspaper on Sundays.

For comparison’s sake, a year of digital and print access to the Miami Herald is about $30 a month. And former D-G Publisher Walter Hussman said last year that the quality of the papers is hardly identical.

“You’re getting a whole lot more value [with the Democrat-Gazette and the free use of an iPad as long as the subscription is current],” the WEHCO chairman said in an Oct. 27 interview. “A couple of months ago, I got on an airplane and there was a Miami Herald. Remember what a great newspaper the Miami Herald was years ago? This one had 20 pages. That day we had 42 pages.”

A house ad on June 18 compared the D-G head-to-head with the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville, known as the oldest newspaper in the state. The Democrat-Gazette had more total pages (40 vs. 28), more news space (nearly 12 pages’ worth to the Times-Union’s 3.03) and 33 staff-written articles to the Florida paper’s nine. Thirteen sports stories appeared in the D-G compared with six in the Times-Union.

“We’ve been doing our dead-level best every day to come up with content [subscribers] can’t find anywhere else, in addition to providing coverage they expect to see,” Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor Alyson Hoge said.

Eliza Hussman Gaines

Hoge’s boss, Publisher Eliza Hussman Gaines, said the key was “consistently serving as a reliable source for fair and factual information that is important and relevant to Arkansans.”

On May 31, Hoge announced that the paper was starting to reserve certain content exclusively for paying subscribers. She acknowledged that readers can learn about many things through social media. “But we also have stories and other content you won’t see anywhere else but here. … That is why we are launching subscriber-exclusive stories and clearly tagging them.” She listed some examples, about the restoration of Cave’s Clock in Little Rock, on area police departments’ efforts to address mental health issues, and plantain recipes.

A similar initiative giving exclusive access to subscribers to some content significantly boosted paid readership at Arkansas Business.

Gaines said results for her paper have been “good so far,” but added it was too early to tell its level of success. She said Hoge has been doing well since taking over the newsroom officially on Feb. 28. “She’s tough but fair, has high expectations for the newsroom and puts readers’ needs first,” Gaines said, calling Hoge all you could want in an editor. “She’s willing to try new things to figure out how we can better serve our subscribers.”

Gaines said veteran reporter Tony Holt recently returned to the paper and said it was her decision to move dozens of pages of financial market small print to the very end of the digital replica edition.

“I thought that moving those pages to the back would improve the flow of the edition, and move Style closer to the front.”

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