By: MARK FITZGERALD
Community papers that start editions to drain revenue from campus papers are not always successful
AS KNIGHT-RIDDER’S Centre Daily Times begins its fight against the Daily Collegian over Penn State University’s student market and readers, both papers can take comfort ? and caution ? from the history of similar town/gown newspaper competitions.
For one thing, the competition between campus papers and their community rivals is not always the kind of David vs. Goliath struggle some might imagine.
In fact, a survey taken two years ago of ad managers at 101 daily student newspapers revealed that 40 of those papers had captured 20% or more of the total community advertising market.
The study, by assistant professor John Bodle of Middle Tennessee State University, found that a fourth of all student dailies or weeklies had annual gross revenues of $250,000 or more.
“Student newspapers commonly siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising from the communities’ print advertising pool,” Bodle told a meeting of the Association for Education and Mass Communication at the time (E&P, Sept. 10, 1994, p. 26).
However, the competition for those dollars is not a sure thing ? for either the campus paper or its downtown rival.
What follows are the stories of two strong town/gown competitions, one that now generally favors the campus paper and another that is trending for the community paper.
Battling Over Boilermakers
The Purdue Exponent, serving Purdue University students on the “Boilermaker” campus in Lafayette, Ind., has long been one of the healthiest student papers in the nation.
It’s a five-day-a-week, 20,000-copy free-distribution paper with significant ad revenue that allows it to thrive without getting a dime from the university.
In fact, the Exponent might serve as an archetype of the campus paper that grows at the expense of its downtown rival, in this case, the Gannett Co.-owned Journal and Courier,in Lafayette.
As of 1994, according to associate professor Bodle’s study, the Exponent was grossing about $1 million in sales ? a good percentage of which the Journal and Courier figured was coming from its rightful share of the market.
In August 1992, the Journal and Courier launched Campus Weekly, written by staff reporters and student stringers, as well as student-interest syndicated material such as the “News of the Weird” feature.
By last summer, however, the Journal and Courier waved the white flag.
“We were a classic example of a weekly competing with an entrenched daily,” said Arvid Olson, the Journal and Courier’s director of marketing development.
“It was profitable, although it was nothing to write home about,” said Olson, who helped develop Campus Weekly. What felled the staff-written product was the dramatic increase in newsprint, Olson said. In an attempt to cut expenses, the Journal and Courier converted the Campus Weekly to a total-market-coverage product using a packaged product produced by Hot Ticket that retains the Campus Weekly name.
The paper is distributed to residence halls on campus and in neighborhoods where students live.
“It has finally become even more profitable” than the staff-produced Campus Weekly, Olson said.
The relative failure of the Journal and Courier in taking on the Exponent is not terribly surprising.
Students clearly like the Exponent.
A recent marketing study found that 98% of Purdue students read the Exponent at least once during the week.
“At the risk of sounding conceited, I really don’t see it as a threat,” said Mark Sabbe, the recently appointed business manager of the Exponent. “Historically, the Exponent is very well read . . . and from what I’ve seen of the Campus Weekly, it’s really not much of a threat in terms of direct advertising competition.”
For example, the Campus Weekly’s Welcome Back issue at the beginning of the school year attracted only one regular Exponent advertiser, Sabbe said.
“I certainly don’t want to say anything negative about the Campus Weekly, but certainly my first impression is that their particular mix is not perhaps as attractive to advertisers as the Exponent’s,” Sabbe said.
No Amity In Ames
In Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, competition is much more aggressive ? and recent ? than in Lafayette, Ind.
For decades, the Iowa State Daily generally stayed on campus while the Daily Tribune served the general community of Ames.
But when the 10,600-circulation evening Daily Tribune discovered that the five-day-a-week morning Iowa State Daily was planning to launch a weekly targeting the university’s faculty and staff, it began some aggressive moves of its own.
The Daily Tribune had already seen the Iowa State Daily begin to move its racks into downtown locations, and expand its coverage to general community news topics. In the view of Daily Tribune publisher Gary Gerlach, the Iowa State Daily was no longer a “student paper.”
“We don’t call it a ‘student paper’ because it takes a commercial approach . . . . It is run by commercial managers who are very commercial-minded and very aggressive,” Gerlach said.
Acting very aggressively itself, the Daily Tribune preempted the planned Iowa State Daily’s staff-oriented weekly by publishing its own weekly, starting last Nov. 7.
The Tribune even dubbed the weekly with the name the Daily had planned for itself: The University Times.
Five days later, the Daily came out with its own version of a staff-targeted paper it called Not the University Times.
The Tribune ? owned by Partnership Press, whose principals are Gerlach, former Des Moines Register and former NBC News President Michael Gartner and Des Moines attorney David Belin ? also fought back against the campus paper in court.
In a lawsuit that is to come to trial Dec. 11, the Tribune argues that the Daily must open its business records because it is covered by the Iowa Open Meetings/Open Records Act (E&P, Dec. 9, 1995, p. 16).
For its part, the Daily says it is a “private, not-for-profit corporation” and thus exempt from the act. The Daily’s free distribution is financed largely by a subscription program with the university’s student government.
Stepping up its competition, the Tribune, in February, also launched a student-targeted weekly of its own, the Campus Reader.
“The Campus Reader is a classical alternative paper,” publisher Gerlach said. “It features a strong cover story on a student issue; Good Times, an entertainment listing, an area which the Daily does not do much with; and a recreational listing with intramural schedules with a focus on the University and campus recreational sports.”
Published on Thursdays during the school year, the Campus Reader has its own small staff and distributes about 10,000 copies weekly.
“It is doing fine journalistically and financially,” Gerlach said. “We’re just in the start-up phase, but we’re pleased.”
In this first year of aggressive competition, it appears to be the Daily Tribune that has the advantage over the Iowa State Daily.
For instance, the Iowa State Daily folded its own staff-targeted weekly even before it could complete its contest to find a new name for the Not the University Times.
It also agreed to withdraw distribution racks that were located in the general community. As a result, distribution is down from about 16,000 a year ago to 14,000 this fall, says Janette Antisdel, general manager of the Iowa State Daily Publication Board.
“We had been going in this direction and started an online edition to save paper,” Antisdel added. (The paper’s Internet address is www.daily.iastate.edu/).
“Our paper has continued to prosper,” she added. “We haven’t changed the paper or our focus. Our sales numbers are up over last year.”
Over the summer, the Daily also signed its first affiliation agreement with the university ? although the documents state explicitly “the university’s belief that we are a private group and not subject to the Open Records/Open Meetings Act,” Antisdel said.
If the Iowa State Daily thinks these actions have mollified the Tribune, however, they are mistaken.
Gerlach says the campus paper has “been kind of cute” in the way it interprets the restriction on racks in the general community, suggesting they are continuing to distribute in town.
And the paper is not satisfied with a university edict that restricts the Campus Reader to fewer on-campus distribution sites than the Daily, Gerlach said.
A First Amendment lawsuit remains a possibility he says.
The Daily Tribune’s legal position is buoyed, too, by an Iowa state statute that explicitly forbids state institutions from competing with private business, Gerlach says.”A couple of things are going in our direction,” Gerlach said of the competition.
?(The Ames, Iowa, Daily Tribune preempted the planned student-operated Iowa State Daily’s faculty-oriented weekly by publishing its own weekly aimed at that audiences starting last Nov. 7) [Photo & Caption]
?(Stepping up its competition with the student-operated Iowa State Daily, the Ames Daily Tribune, in February, also launched a student-targeted weekly of its own, the Campus Reader.) [Photo & Caption]