By: Mark Fitzgerald
As its name implies, First Home Builders in Fort Myers, Fla., is a contractor specializing in building houses for young adults buying their first homes. Along with a set of keys, each gets a housewarming gift from First Home: a six-month subscription to The News-Press at no charge.
The arrangement between First Home and The News-Press, an 80,441-circulation Gannett Co. Inc. daily in Fort Myers, is only one of many new circulation-building techniques newspapers are using as a result of liberalized Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) rules defining paid circulation. This sort of tie-in now fits neatly under ABC rules for so-called third-party sales: First Home buys the seven-day home-delivery subscriptions at 25% of the newspaper’s basic price — the maximum discount that still qualifies as paid circulation — and offers them to customers.
“So far, we’re averaging 40 to 50 subscriptions a month,” said Circulation Director Steve Ecken. The program started just six months ago, so the paper is in the process of trying to convince the first group to stay subscribers. “We think with these people changing lifestyles, there’s a good possibility they will become newspaper readers. We’re not going to exploit the 25% rule just to pump numbers,” Ecken added. “It’s expensive, but if they become long-term subscribers, we’ll make that money back real fast.”
Those making a move to new homes, in fact, are a target of several newspapers’ circulation campaigns. The arrangement builds circulation numbers — but, just as important, it captures elusive youth and ethnic demographic groups. “We are now venturing into third-party subscription sales through apartments,” said David C. Dadisman, The Washington Post‘s vice president of circulation, “where management companies buy short-term, Sunday-only subscriptions for residents as an amenity.”
The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., makes third-party sponsorship arrangements with rental-car companies, hotels, convenience stores, and others leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Over the 12-week celebration, circulation is bumped an average 31,000 copies, said Robert W. Althaus, Gannett’s vice president of circulation. At another Gannett paper, The Indianapolis Star, single-copy sales jump 110,000 during the Indy 500 auto race, he added.
Another popular tactic these days is increasing the shelf life of Sunday papers, which are left in separate racks until midweek or longer. “More than one circulation executive has told me that those types of racks are responsible for 15% of total Sunday news-rack sales,” said John Murray, vice president for circulation at the Newspaper Association of America.
More newspapers are also increasing Sunday circulation by offering to send, at no extra charge, a copy of the previous Sunday’s paper when delivery to subscribers starts. Murray said: “If you sell, say, 500 subscriptions before … Thursday — that’s 500 copies you can include in paid circulation.”