The Little Paper That Keeps Growing Big

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By: Jennifer Saba

In this tough circulation climate, newspapers that make small gains (or remain flat for that matter) will be held up as shinning examples.

One paper that keeps defying the considerable odds heaped on newspapers these days deserves extra attention. Come Monday, The Bulletin in Bend, Ore., will report its third year of circulation growth with the release of the Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX for the spring period.

We’re not talking about fractions of percentage points, either. According to Keith Foutz, who oversees circulation at the paper, the Bulletin grew its daily circ (Monday-Friday) 5% to about 31,220. Saturday was up too, 2.6% to 33,235. Sunday jumped 4.8% to 31,966.

Those gains come by way of growth in home delivered copies — a category that is receiving renewed focus among publishers. Foutz said that Monday-Friday, home-delivered copies rose 4%, on Saturday it advanced 4%, and on Sunday it was up 6%.

Third-party copies, which have become almost radioactive for newspapers, represent less than 1% of the Bulletin’s total daily and Sunday circ.

“Despite being a small market, we have grown in this category without discounting, and in fact, even increased our market share yet again,” Foutz, who also serves as corporate circulation and operations director at parent company Western Communications, wrote in an e-mail.

The Bulletin has a Web site partly accessible for free. The bulk of the content, though, is available only through an e-edition. As of April 23, the paper counted 706 e-edition subscribers, 195 of those subscribers get both the e-edition and print paper, said New Media Director Jan Even.

She said the paper conducted an internal survey in 2006 and found that 60% of adults in Deschutes County, where Bend is located, are Internet users, and 51% access Bendbulletin.com — though not all those accessing the Web Site are e-edition subscribers.

Bend is a small growing market, with a 2007 population of about 63,872, according to the E&P Market Guide. The growth has mushroomed about 23% from the last census tally in 2000.

Of course, small market newspapers are buffeted — for now at least — against some of the pressures facing their big-city brethren. But that should not take away from the Bulletin’s growth, especially in circulation categories, i.e. home-delivery, that are valuable to advertisers.

Foutz attributed the circulation advances to strong editorial content making sure to point out that the Bulletin is investing in staff, pages, and content while other newspapers are pulling back. Additionally, the paper carefully monitors its “out of door” time to ensure consistent delivery and follows up with subscribers several times during the year to make sure people are happy.

“The newspaper industry isn’t dying,” wrote Foutz, “it’s evolving — and the leaders of papers need to make the conscious decision to go back to the basics.”

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Related E&P story: FAS-FAX Preview: Circ Numbers To Take Another Big Hit

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