Little is the new big

Peter Wagner

Dec 1, 2021


I shared at the Jacksonville, Florida, NNA convention — and have made it our business mantra in Northwest Iowa — that “little is the new big” in our community newspaper industry.

The days of selling full pages to the local supermarkets are long gone. Those once lucrative sources of advertising revenue have either been put out of business by bigger nearby regional grocery stores or have determined they can more economically reach their customer with weekly or daily online specials.

Our Sheldon J.C. Penney store closed over a decade ago. So did just about any other national chain that once had a local storefront in our town. The number of retailers in smaller communities have often been reduced to half or more. Radio and TV stations have cut rates dramatically, and some cable operations are offering 100 spots for $1,000.

Still, there is hope and a strong future for the community newspaper. Community support pages, made up of many smaller featured ads, can sometimes produce more dollars per page than those once important grocery and chain pages.

Take a full process-color page thanking area daily farmers for adding to the area economy, for example. Or saluting local wine producers, cotton growers or whatever local industry is deemed valuable to the community.

All that is necessary is to create a broadside page of 36 business card size ads, all printed under an attractive header, sold at $50 per card, and you have a finished page worth $1,800.

The most exciting thing about such pages is they can be sold to anyone and everyone in the community, from the health center to the local bank to the hardware store and coffee shop. Plus, the community support — never signature — pages can be offered week after week for everything from saluting the High School

Homecoming candidates to EMT week to Veterans Day. We often run as many as seven of eight different community support pages in our various newspapers every week.

Local businesses want to be associated with as many salutes to organizations and events as possible. They may not have the budget for huge display ads, but they will find the dollars to say “us, too” to ads honoring Catholic Education Week, Senior Citizen’s Week and “Shop local this Christmas.”

Last spring, we purchased the Gazette-Tribune in Sibley, a community of two thousand plus residents 20 miles north of our corporate headquarters in Sheldon.
The newspaper’s revenue was flat, and I knew we had to put some meat on the paper’s bones quickly if we were to survive.

The answer was to create a monthly, profitable full-color back page for each week of the month. That page would guarantee a base of at least $1,000 weekly, upon which we could build additional run-of-press advertising.

Again, depending on the “little is the new big” rule, we were able to sell the following smaller ad pages.



An “8-pac” page featuring local retail businesses. (See example.) The page is also published in the company’s Sibley 4-County Shopper, so it brings in additional revenue for both publications. Our rate card sets the price for eighth-page ads higher than a full-page divided by eighths. The amount bill for the eight accounts garners enough additional income to make it possible to offer each advertiser a free process-color half page, in both papers, any week during the eight-month contract period. The half page really isn’t free. The businesses have paid for it in the higher price changed for the eighth pages. The promise of a free half page makes the promotion an easy sell and keeps the advertisers involved through the entire schedule. Things go more smoothly if the advertising representative is able to provide the client with a solid ad idea each month.


Shop Sibley, Support Sibley, Be Sibley. Twenty of 20 local businesses (plus the Gazette-Tribune which participates at no charge), pay $50 a month for 21 months to be on this page. Each month, the photos at the top are rotated to feature four Sibley businesses ready to meet that month’s traditional food, clothing or financial needs.


This is another “8-pac” similar to week one, except it features home building supply firms, contractors and automotive service businesses.


This promotion has worked in a number of our markets. The page features a large photograph of a local community leader and comments by that person as to why they believe in supporting Sibley. Each of the participating firms are listed in the support boxes below and pay $50 a month to be part of the promotion. The copy is written by myself after an interview and provided to the featured person to edit and approve. Interestingly, we have never had anyone attempt to drop off the promotion even after their business was featured.

Yes, the future can be bright for community newspapers if they embrace the businesses who are also interested in the future and are willing to buy little to keep the newspaper big.

Peter W. Wagner is founder and publisher of the award winning N’West Iowa REVIEW and 13 additional publications in Northwest Iowa. You can reach him for information on subscribing to his monthly advertising newsletter at or by calling his cell at 712-348-3550.