Survey: E-editions are on the rise at community papers

Feb 1, 2012

By Tonda F. Rush
Electronic editions may be on the rise in the community newspaper business, according to an informal survey by the National Newspaper Association of its most active members. More than half consider themselves actively pursuing digital publishing strategies, although only 22 percent call themselves aggressive.
Of the nearly 60 percent that offer a digital version of the newspaper, most charge an independent but lower price for that subscription.
Some try to pitch the option mostly to long distance subscribers, such as Dan Pool, with the Pickens County Progress in Jasper, GA. He said, “We have tried to come up with pricing that makes it attractive to out-of-state subscribers, particularly when the speed of their delivery becomes instant on our weekly. However, we offered a print/online combination for an extra $7 for in-county subscribers and this has been our most popular offering. We believe that a number of readers who would buy off-the-rack every week have taken this option so they have the paper available immediately with the e-edition and then a print copy sent to their house as well.”
Deteriorating mail delivery has become a new motivator.
“The USPS, namely its poor service, is the primary reason we recommend that out-of-market customers buy the electronic version,” said Chris Evans, with the Crittenden Press in Marion, KY.
About a third of responders say their e-edition is now free, but they plan to institute a subscription fee in 2012.
Digital may be the way newspapers regain the disenchanted readers lost because of slow postal delivery. Brett Hulsey, Jones Media, Greeneville, TN, said, “We specifically targeted former mail subscribers with some success for the e-only option,” even though he found that smaller more rural papers in his group are concerned about losing preprint revenue with the e-editions.
Others are looking for the right mix and software partner. NNA Region 11 Director Sharon DiMauro, Fort (CA) Bragg Advocate-News, said, “We plan to try an e-edition if we can find something that fits our needs/cost constraints and will try to get back out of county subscribers.”
The providers of electronic edition software may be missing out on a growth market by not reaching the community newspapers, said Cindy Joy-Rodgers, NNA’s annual convention and trade show, â¨sales and sponsorships manager. She noted that NNA has four allied partners actively marketing to the industry—Town News, ETYPE Services, SmallTownPapers and Woodwing. But another 20 to 25 providers have yet to become active in their outreach.
“It is important for providers serving our business to have an attractive price point and a user-friendly application,” she said. “Companies serving the larger markets may be designing products that require an IT director, which most of our members do not have. But once they hit the sweet spot with the right product, they find loyal customers. Publishers are busy. They want business partners they can stick with over a long term.”
E-editions are just part of the strategy. But publishers vary in their attitudes about how important it is and how it fits into their strategic vision for the newspaper:
Laura Douglas-Brown, the Georgia Voice, Atlanta, GA: We consider ourselves a media outlet with two equally important modes of publishing: print and digital. Our digital efforts include our website (updated daily and includes Web-specific content), Facebook and Twitter (multiple updates daily), YouTube channel, weekly e-mail newsletter, and digital edition of biweekly print edition.
Larry Hiatt, Columbia (KS) News Report: When other newspapers in the area put their work online it is suddenly available on hundreds of websites…. If someone wants to read it they are going to pay us for the information and our presentation. We believe strongly our work is worthy of pay. If someone wants to give their work away they know the value…. We believe the public will pay enough for the product to make a profit, but not if they can get the same product free.
Scott McIntosh, Kuna (ID) Melba News: We still make our money through our print publication. We are poised for digital if and when it becomes a money-making venture. Until then, we use our website, blog, mobile website, Facebook page and twitter account primarily for marketing purposes and our electronic version of our paper for the convenience of some of our readers.
Mark Engebretson, Lake Country Sun, Graford, TX: Not sure about aggressive, but we are very active. We post short info on our website, but there is a paid site that has the full paper. In addition, as a weekly, we post death notices and obituaries as they are received on our free site. Our biggest following is on Facebook where we link to stories and photos on the website as well as post breaking tidbits.
John Stevenson, Randolph Leader, Roanoke, AL: We offer selected and often partial stories on a free site. We offer a separate e-edition subscription and charge the same price as our local (in-county) print subscription. This includes full keyword searchable archives. For those print subscribers who also would like the e-edition, they get it for just $10 annually added to the appropriate (in-county or out-of-county) print subscription rate. When we shorten a story for the free site we’ll end it with a line like this: (For more of this story see the Jan. 18 issue of The Randolph Leader.) And of course, the entire paper can be found at a news rack or right there on the computer by subscribing online with a credit card. Also, photos that appear in grayscale in the print edition appear in color in our online e-edition. Just a little value added feature that, with the searchable archives, helps drive online subscriptions.
Barry Hoff, Bloomer Advance, Bloomer, WI: Interestingly enough, local techy and/or green people like the electronic edition.
How are readers accepting the e-editions? Responses indicate acceptance is mixed, particularly after the paywall is established. But some met with enthusiasm, nonetheless.
Diane Everson, Edgerton (WI) Reporter, “Our readers are telling us, ‘(I)t is about time you did this.’ They love it. We are getting fan mail!”