Critical Thinking: Increasing Subscriptions Among Young Readers

By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: Increasing Subscriptions Among Young Readers

Q: If you were in charge of increasing your print subscriptions among young readers (ages 18-35), how would you do it?

Kelley Sousa, 21, Senior, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Sousa is majoring in journalism/public relations, with a double minor in Hispanic studies and social and economic justice. This summer, she is an intern with Reese News, a digital media project currently experimenting with how to provide creative political coverage on a mobile interface. She hopes to apply her passion for service by pursuing a job in public affairs.  

A: Young readers expect convenience and speed, but they also desire exclusivity and status. Digital media has proven to be the superior outlet for young readers to meet the expectation of accessibility. However, that does not mean print subscriptions have no appeal. There is the potential for growth in this segment if marketed correctly.

Were I asked to increase print subscriptions among young readers, I would highlight the aspects of print that digital cannot offer. For example, the 24-hour digital news cycle leaves little room for suspense. Comparatively, a daily, weekly, or monthly print publication gives readers the time to be eager, curious — to ponder, talk, and guess. I would market this. The publication would become like a weekly television show. There would be forums created for discussion: Who will be on the next cover? What topics will be covered? What new information regarding the person, the issue, or the industry will be revealed?

The subscription and these forums would be exclusive. There is power and appeal in the openness of the Internet, but there is an attractiveness that comes with the feeling that one is part of an elite group. Getting a subscription would require an invitation. The first to receive them would be among the opinion leaders of the targeted youth.

The forums for members and the promotions for how to get an invitation would most likely appear in the digital world. While print subscriptions may still have a market in young readers, this group is better connected digitally. With the dynamics of Internet and mobile use constantly changing, there is still an important stability found in print. Perhaps my generation can recognize the stability, appreciate the suspense, invest in the exclusivity, and maybe even come to consider print “cool.”

Terri F. Edwards, 46, Director of marketing and communications, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch
Edwards has been with the Times-Dispatch since 1997, previously serving as audience growth manager and promotion coordinator. Before joining the newspaper, she worked in the fundraising industry. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., she is a graduate of Virginia Tech.  

A: In recent years, many newspapers have used their limited marketing resources to target best prospects, those consumers who “look like” our current subscribers, who are generally older and more affluent. One key part of the equation to reach the 18-to-35 age group would have to be adjusting our marketing strategies to redirect toward this younger audience. Tactics could include aggressive marketing on college campuses, reinstating or beefing up high school Newspaper in Education and apartment programs, as well as targeted media campaigns including social.

On the content side, adding some new, younger voices would no doubt help. Again, in recent years the content mix has tended toward stories that will resonate with our current audience more than those that might help us expand our reach to younger readers. Different storytelling techniques, especially more visually appealing graphic presentations, would be worth exploring. These younger readers may need more context or background for certain stories, and quicker reads and more engaging headlines are likely to help involve this audience that is more accustomed to receiving information via text, tweet, or email.

Traditional thinking is that Sunday is our best offering for this age group, and it may well be, but the traditional Sunday newspaper may be overwhelming for some. While there is no doubt a significant interest in shopping and savings among this population, the group — which includes households with young children — may have even less time to read on Sunday than other age groups. An alternate Sunday product with quicker reads and a summary of the week’s news that includes the all-important advertising inserts might be an avenue to explore. However, the print edition may never be the vehicle of choice for this age group. A replica e-edition, perhaps supplemented by home delivery of Sunday advertising inserts, or a digital subscription may be our best chance to turn this group into loyal readers.

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Published: July 19, 2012

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