By: Jennifer Saba
The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., might turn other newspapers into green-eyed monsters with its circulation accomplishments in the past year. During the March 2006 reporting period, many papers looked like roadkill bleeding circulation. The Bulletin, meanwhile, made some of the industry’s biggest gains, with daily up 7.3% to 29,734 and Sunday up 5.6% to 30,502.
Those increases are far from flukes. This is the paper’s fourth consecutive circulation increase since the September 2004 reporting period. Publisher Gordon Black says that over the past two years, the paper’s circ is up 13%.
What’s more, the Bulletin upped its numbers without discounting. In fact, Keith Foutz, corporate circulation director at Western Communications, the Bulletin’s owner, says the paper doesn’t talk down the price: “We don’t believe in discounting.”
So how have they done it? Publisher Black says, “We continue to invest in all aspects of the paper by trying to find out what readers want, and what advertisers want.”
Many publishers have taken machetes to hack sections down to size. Not at the Bulletin. “We’ve added a weekly entertainment magazine on Friday, a health and fitness section on Thursday,” Black notes. “We’ve taken the business page and turned it into a section. We carry stock tables. We started a home section on Tuesday and a weekly sports feature. We’ve invested in designers to keep the papers popping and alive.”
On the technical side, the newspaper is reaping the benefits of its six-year-old, $12-million production facility and its investment in CTP (computer-to-plate) technology.
Stories traverse all sorts of territory, from a point-by-point column on why emergency contraception should be made available, to a wonderfully weird column on the dangers of falling trophy mounts.
The content is also treated with high regard: Readers have to pay to get full access to the paper online, a policy executives implemented in September 2005. Black says his paper has presently netted 450 additional online-only subscribers ? without marketing the change. (And those electronic editions are counted toward paid circulation.) But the Bulletin never put all its content online in the first place; while the original site offered a lot of news, it didn’t carry all of the print content. Now, it does. “We didn’t take anything away,” Black says.
“Fortunately, we are privately held ? and our shareholders are very attuned to the importance of the product,” adds Black. “If we cut back on newshole and raise the price, it’s counterintuitive for people to continue to come in droves and buy your product.”