By: Mark Fitzgerald
one copy at a time
Newspapers are finally getting the message many of their readers have been sending for decades: A lot of people like to buy their paper one copy at a time ? and nothing is going to change that.
“Single-copy is a lifestyle behavior ? not just a home-delivery conversion opportunity,” says Bob Sutherland, Gannett Co. Inc.’s circulation operations director.
Once newspapers accept that, he adds, they have to approach the mission of increasing single-copy circulation with the same seriousness they put into acquiring home-delivery subscribers.
“We’ve often said single-copy is the stepchild of circulation sales. It’s often where we put the person we think can’t hack it in delivery,” Sutherland says. “In many of our newspapers, single-copy sales are operationally driven. By that I mean we spend most of our resources in just getting the copies out. Well, we need to get out of that print-and-plop syndrome.”
Gannett has just concluded experiments intended to increase single-copy sales at five of its papers. The results, Sutherland says, suggest papers can achieve significant gains by targeting key stores and news-rack locations, tracking sales carefully ? and being far more flexible about revenue sharing.
“You have to meet the dealer’s needs first, and that means taking a look at our rate structure,” Sutherland says. “We can’t expect retailers to jump up and down and welcome us with open arms when we offer them, in some cases, as low as 2 cents a copy. We’re going to have to share more of the profit.”
To get into new convenience stores and increase point-of-purchase sites inside supermarkets, the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star offered deeper discounts on papers during a three-month promotion. In addition to multiple sales locations in the stores, the Register Star was promoted by increased signage.
One convenience store chain, Minuteman, provided dramatic evidence of the effectiveness of point-of-purchase promotion when it inadvertently stopped the promotion three weeks early, and then started it back up.
Daily sales out of Minuteman stores increased 12% above the year-before level, then fell to just a 2% increase when the signage was pulled ? and spiked back up to 14% above average when the promotion was restored, says Michelle Foster, Gannett’s vice president/market development. On Sundays, the increases went from 11% to 8% to 20%, she adds.
“To attract occasional readers, we have to show them why they should read the paper today and create reasons why they should be reading the paper every day,” she says. “We must promote the content as interesting ? and it must be interesting. It is not interesting, I would suggest, to promote [on a rack card] that you can save $2.27 with the coupons that are in the paper.”
In South Carolina, Gannett’s The Greenville News targeted in-store placement in grocery and convenience stores. With Bi-Lo groceries, for example, the paper traded ad space for floor space: The News is now displayed in every checkout lane of the grocery chain’s stores.
After three years when it was shut out of in-store sales in the L’il Cricket convenience store chain, the News first persuaded management to put papers in its Greenville stores ? and then at all 81 of its locations.
Attitude was the difference, says Terry Lehman, L’il Cricket’s senior vice president: “The approach before was, ‘We’re the big newspaper, and here’s how you’re going to do this ? period.’ ? Now they’ve shown me more of an attitude to work with us. We see that by having the newspaper in the store we are going to get the customer inside the store.”
Overall, the campaign led to a 25.2% increase in daily single-copy sales and a 46.4% increase in Sunday single-copy sales at L’il Cricket stores in Greenville, Gannett’s Sutherland says.
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