By: by Lucia Moses
Success Hinges On Fat Ad-Filled Issues, Lean Editorial Ranks
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by Lucia Moses
With papers in Aspen, Colo., and Palo Alto, Calif., among others, David
Danforth has shown it’s possible to publish a daily newspaper with no
circulation revenue or circulation-verification system. But can such a
model work in a market with an established paid and audited daily?
Time will soon tell. On June 5, two of Danforth’s partners rolled out
a free-distribution daily in New Hampshire, where they have already
started two others. This one is in Laconia, a tourist town of about
15,000. The founders picked Laconia because it is relatively close to
Conway, where the paper is printed. The town is already served by the
Laconia Citizen, a paid daily.
In a nutshell, here is Danforth’s business model: Produced by a lean
staff, the tabloid papers are distributed in the mornings via businesses
and newspaper boxes, thus keeping personnel costs low. The main idea is
that rock-bottom ad rates will attract volume – and that advertisers
won’t mind not being able to verify circulation when they realize the
paper, strong on local news, is well-read.
The formula has kept The Conway Daily Sun in business for 11 years. The
paper, which was started by Danforth’s partners, has five news staffers
plus an editor. The paper runs 36 to 40 pages, and claims a distribution
Wayne Willman, sales manager at Miller Auto Outlet, which serves the
Conway area, was reluctant to advertise in The Conway Daily Sun until
he saw that it wasn’t a shopper paper. ‘I’ve always been against free
papers, but this one’s widely read and draws tremendously for me,’ he
‘It’s free. Everyone grabs one,’ says Benjamin Gutowski, a longtime
advertiser who owns the local Sears, Roebuck and Co. outlet. ‘They’re
the primary paper.’
It’s a different story in Laconia, where The Laconia Daily Sun is going
up against the Citizen, a 9,200-circulation daily with a 75-year history.
Ed Engler, the Daily Sun’s publisher and co-owner, says none of the
paper’s staffers come from Laconia, which has made for a steep learning
curve. But being free seems to lower expectations of the paper, and
people have responded positively, albeit with surprise and skepticism,
he says. The paper drops off 3,000 copies at 50 locations, but plans to
expand distribution in response to demand from businesses that want
copies in their stores, he says.
The hope is that more advertising, now a trickle, will start to flow.
Engler says the idea is that ‘you reach a critical mass on distribution
where it’s just obvious you’ve got to be in that paper.’
Citizen Executive Editor John Howe downplays the newcomer, pointing to
his paper’s history and solid coverage of local news. ‘The Laconia Citizen
is certainly a long-established, very heavy local content newspaper,’
observes Tom Brown, publisher of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, which prints
a Laconia edition. ‘If the Sun is going to be a local newspaper, they’re
going to have to invest quite a bit.’
Lucia Moses (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor for E&P.
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