What can we do about declining readership?

April 30, 2013

By Jerry Bellune

Our declining readership is not only fueled by a loss of readers to the Internet—it is a result of a decline in younger readers: those who did not pick up the newspaper habit in their formative years.

Older people tend to be newspaper readers. But eventually, they die and our readership contracts even more.


Not all is bleak

The U.S. population has increased by more than 50 percent since the 1970s. Much of that results from both documented and undocumented immigration.


Four solutions

Court the most likely newspaper readers; those that our advertisers want to respond to their ads.

That means our circulation sales efforts should concentrate on these groups. They include young business leaders, stay-at-home parents, influentials, baby boomers and retirees.

Local news will attract them but we need to know for what kind of local news they hunger.

We can’t possibly cover all the local news that’s happening every day. We must be selective with emphasis on what our dream subscribers want.

That may mean less emphasis on traditional listening posts for news.

Instead of reporters spending three or more hours covering a meeting, there may be better uses of their time.

Improve our online products and use social media to attract readers.

This is where advertising, circulation and news can work together.

Editors need the feedback that sales and circulation people hear frequently. Share that feedback with your editors.

We also need to use Facebook, Twitter, apps, online video and photo galleries to attract readers.

A few dozen photos online from a local event will attract readers who know we were there making photos.

Publish more names and faces in the paper and online.

It is still a big deal to have your photo in the local newspaper. The more photos the better.

Are your editors opposed to group photos and other non-prize winning photojournalism.

You’re going to have to educate them that they can have prize winners and the bread-and-butter stuff, too.

At my paper, we strive for 1,000 names and 100 faces in every edition of our newspapers.

That means 1,100 readers or would-be readers are going to hear, “We saw your picture in the paper.”

Support local literacy tutoring and English as a Second Language programs.

Align yourself with groups that foster readership—especially readership for newspapers. Make it your chief charity and appeal regularly to your readers for their financial support. We can help people to read and in the process turn them into newspaper readers.

May’s takeaway thought: For a complimentary copy of my Special Report, “The Romance of Advertising,” e-mail me at JerryBellune@yahoo.com. © The Bellune Co. 2013


Jerry Bellune and his family own and operate book, newspaper and niche publishing companies in South Carolina. Write him at JerryBellune@yahoo.com

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