Digital newspapers make your news mobile

February 4, 2014

By Thad Swiderski
President | eType Services

Your printed edition has value. For hundreds of years, readers have enjoyed the printed edition of their local newspaper and have instinctively understood the importance of a story because of the way newspapers are designed. Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, put it this way: newspapers give readers a sense of completion. Online readers can always click another link or read another Web page, but with newspapers, there is a sense of closure upon turning the last page, reading the last paragraph and knowing that you’re done.

Although I could delve into the design elements of a good newspaper, my real purpose here is to explore how the printed edition fits into the new digital age. Many pundits have stated that the electronic edition is a bridge technology to something new. I agree with this statement.

Just like bridges touch both sides of the ground on either side of a chasm, the electronic edition lives in the print world and in the digital world. Electronic editions are a bridge to a new digital age, but because no one is quite sure what will come next in our rapidly changing world, it is important for papers to begin the transition to digital while keeping one foot firmly planted in their printed product.

Paying for local news coverage is nothing new. Since newspapers were first established, readers have purchased subscriptions in order to access their community news. On the other hand, asking readers to pay for a digital copy of the paper is something new and should be treated the same way as old-style circulation.

One important piece of that equation is delivery—not just access to an online portal, but actual delivery of the latest edition—whether it is in print or digital format.

Readers will pay for an electronic version of a newspaper if they know it is the same as the printed edition that appears on the street, particularly if they are able to read it from their iPad or other mobile device.

Papers large and small have had success, and readers old and young, are adopting the electronic edition. Let me give you an example. The Fayette County Record in La Grange, TX, had never offered digital products. Larry Jackson, the publisher of the newspaper and a National Newspaper Association member, had always believed that readers should pay for the news that appears in the paper. Yet readers from Houston enjoy The Fayette County Record just as residents of La Grange do. It was important to reach those readers in Houston who might have a second home or any type of connection to beautiful La Grange.

Delivering a print copy to out-of-town readers—even from only 70 miles away—had always been a challenge for The Fayette County Record. An electronic edition with a hard paywall was the perfect answer. After advertising this product in the newspaper, Jackson was able to generate a substantial number of subscriptions, which earned the paper an extra source of revenue. Moreover, because the U.S. Postal Service and audit bureaus allow for papers to count digital subscribers as readers, the paper’s subscriber base increased, and with it, the ability to sell advertising.

Since Jackson’s testimonial in Pub Aux last year, The Fayette County Record has continued down the digital path by launching a website in order to maximize the paper’s digital readership. The website is not meant to compete with the newspaper, but rather, it exists to increase circulation and complement the electronic edition.

Having a website by itself is meaningless unless you have a strategy to increase circulation or revenue. Websites can—and should—be used to drive more potential subscribers to your newspaper by showing readers only parts of the stories they can find in the paper, and by containing videos, story updates, additional photos and the kinds of things that your paper cannot include on a day-to-day basis. Most importantly, your website should sell subscriptions. A paywall is the best way to convert the average reader to a paid subscriber.

Papers that have traditionally had a website can also use this strategy. By redesigning your website and not giving away entire stories, you can increase circulation to your printed or digital edition. A perfect example of this is NNA member paper The San Marcos Record. The Record was giving away too much content online and was seeing a vast reduction in the number of new subscriptions as a result. After slimming down the content on the website and introducing an electronic edition, The Record has seen a dramatic improvement in the number of new subscribers. As a result, the paper’s combined digital and circulation revenue has increased.

An electronic edition and website are certainly not the end-all, be-all in our rapidly changing digital landscape, but they are good revenue sources that will help keep newspapers moving forward. As newspapers continue to try to engage readers, we need to think of new and interesting ways that will enable our printed edition to reach more eyeballs. An electronic edition, and a website that drives readers to it, are great ways to increase the visibility of your brand.

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