Merchandising has long been an afterthought at newspapers. They might offer reprints of photos, a book commemorating some sports championship and a small selection of T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with the paper’s flag. Newspaper stores commanded little management attention and traditionally generated negligible revenue.
But as newspapers look for new revenue streams, some are re-thinking their approach to merchandising ? and what they can offer to readers. These days the newspaper stores are offering a lot more than reprints of their 1969 “Man Walks on the Moon” front page.
Model airplanes, wine, hippie-era concert posters, antique maps, wood from the Titanic ? you can purchase any of it at a newspaper. Outside the U.S., the goods available range even farther afield from any connection to the newspaper.
The British national paper the Guardian, for instance, offers cottage rentals, duvets, CD players, plant seeds and dozens of other gift items. It has an entire “Guardian Fashion Store” offering shoes, suits and pajamas.
The Telegraph in London makes about a quarter of its profit selling things, notes Jeff Jarvis, media educator and author of What Would Google Do? “They are the leading retailer of clothes hangers in the U.K.,” he says.
America’s national newspapers haven’t gone quite that far ? yet. But they are making outside-the-newspaper offers to appeal to their higher demographic readers.
In just the last year, for example, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal launched wine businesses. Readers who join the Discovery Club at WSJwine receive a 12-bottle case of wine every three months, and are billed about $70.
Wine is a sensible extension of the Times brand, says Alice Ting, executive director of brand development. “Like a lot of newspapers, we were looking to expand into different verticals,” she says. “If you think of the newspaper, we report on dining and food and home and health, so we’ve always looked at whether there was a way to extend the brand into those areas.”
Research showed Times readers had a “very strong affinity toward wine consumption and spending on wine,” Ting says. The readers also wanted to learn more about wine.
From photos to patent models
The Times for years has been an active merchandiser, but like most newspapers it limited its offerings to things it could pull from its archives.
“We started out with just photographs, and had great success,” says Jim Mones, director of the Times’ online store. “Then we extended to other kinds of content, still focusing on Times content.” The paper offered historic front pages, personal-ized sports books, even “birthday” books with pages from the newspaper on the day someone was born.
“As time went on, we moved from photographs and into fine art prints,” Mones adds. “We are probably now one of the world’s leading sources of fine arts prints in general.”
From there the offers expanded “naturally,” he adds.
The Times has a simple approach in deciding what to merchandise, Ting says: “We always look to see if it is a fit for the brand, and secondarily, is it something our readers would be passionate about. It’s always brand first and then our customers.”
So for Times merchandisers, historical photos and prints from the New York Historic Society is a perfect offering. “Our readers have an affinity for that museum, it’s in New York, it’s a good match,” says Ting.
The history connection with readers goes a long way for Times merchandisers.
One of the more unusual offerings by any newspaper was its recent sale of U.S. Patent models, the actual miniature models required in the 1800s when an inventor was seeking a patent. In an arrangement with the U.S. Patent Model Foundation, the Times offered these truly one-of-a-kind models for sale. They weren’t cheap. A model of a printing press feeder from 1889, for instance, was priced at $2,595.
Times executives won’t reveal the revenue they get from the Times store, but they indicate all of its collectibles, which include model trains and planes, have been very successful.
“Collectibles and unique objects have done very well for us,” Ting says. One of the most popular items: wood from the Titanic. Again, there’s a newspaper connection, says Mones: “The Times is known for its shipping news reports over the years. For decades, we were the shipping news provider to the country. This product ? high?end, extremely high quality ? was very successful.”
The key to successful merchandising by newspapers is more engagement with readers, Jarvis says. “Newspapers have always been about getting people to buy, it’s just a matter of where you get paid on the retail chain,” he says.
And as retail becomes more important as a revenue stream, Jarvis says, it may well force newspapers to rethink plans to charge for access to online content. “What store puts a toll booth on its front door?” he says.
Like other retailers, the Times often experiments, offering just a few items in a new category to see how they move.
So far, the Times has not branched out into travel, but that appears a growth area for newspapers. In January The Wall Street Journal, for instance, launched WSJtravel with nearly 50 trips, including a culinary journey through Vietnam, a wine and food tour of Napa and a trip to Tuscany for bibliophiles.
“Just as you have come to rely on The Wall Street Journal’s perspective of global events, many WSJtravel vacations will let you experience a destination from a completely new viewpoint,” the announcement said. (Because of a change in management of its brand extensions, no Journal executive was available for this story.) The travel agency is operated independently of the newsroom, but promises destinations that have been favorites of the paper’s correspondents.
Another growth area is education. The Times has offered its “Knowledge Network” of online classes for several years, but this spring branched beyond the cooking and art courses to offer certificate programs in areas such as nursing and paralegal training.
There’s one constant throughout the Times offerings ? they are advertised only in the printed newspaper or on its affiliated Web sites. “I think we find our best results are through the Times,” Ting says.