10 Right: The Times, Ottowa, Ill.

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Starting a newspaper subscriber loyalty program is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that’s often as much brain power as many papers invest in creating and operating the program. Loyalty programs are ubiquitous among newspapers, and they are also nearly universally ignored by subscribers ? many of whom don’t even realize their paper is offering any benefit for being a good customer.

But when John A. Newby was circulation director at The Dispatch in Moline, one of the Quad Cities on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, he came away from a Newspaper Next session with a brainstorm for a retention program that not only rewards loyal subscribers, but also attracts many advertisers who would not otherwise advertise in the paper.

Launched in the winter of 2007, DeliveringQC offers easily understood loyalty rewards: coupons from local merchants available only to subscribers. It also, through a feature called Value Vault, lets non-subscribers in on the action by allowing anyone to buy gift certificates from those local businesses at a deep discount. The newspapers pocket the payments from users.

What’s in it for the merchants? A chance to advertise and get business without laying out any cash because they pay for the program with gift certificates, and they’re not out anything until a customer walks in the store ? a customer as likely as not to spend more than the face value of their certificate.

Now Newby is publisher of another Small Newspaper Group daily, The Times, a 15,000-circulation evening daily in Ottawa, Ill., and he’s pumping up revenue with a philosophy of finding money outside of print ? and even online.

“Print is great, and we have to have it,” he says. “But online is a very crowded playground with everyone trying to figure it out. That’s why we’ve gone to plasma TVs and tabletops ? there’s no competition there.”

Rather grandly titled “Total Mind Absorption,” or TMA, the program encourages smaller businesses to advertise on the Web, and a bit in print, too, with a package of ad opportunities. These include tabletops with advertising built right into them that are placed in sports bars or mall food carts, and plasma TVs strategically placed in restaurants or bars and framed with advertising from the Times Web site. And like DeliveringQC, it allows subscribers exclusive access to coupons.

The package is then sold for the same price as advertising solely on the Web site. When Newby arrived at the Times, its site was selling about 30% of its inventory. That figure jumped to 80% by Memorial Day 2008, and he expected to be sold out by the end of June.

TMA, which the Times has sold to six other papers and expects to land a major chain soon, has proven a cushion against big hits in auto and help-wanted classified revenue, says Newby. Ad revenue in recent months has been up 3% to 10% above 2007. “We did $120,000 in June online, which is good for a paper our size, and a lot of it is bundling.

“We always say when someone figures out online, we’ll copy them,” he adds. “In the meantime, we’ve got this playground to ourselves.”

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