Newspapers need to embrace single-copy sales

By Bob Bobber

As subscription sales get harder and harder to obtain, newspapers have got to embrace single-copy sales. One analogy that I draw when discussing single copy is the milk industry. Fifty years ago most Americans got their milk delivered to their homes.

The milkman was as iconic as the mailman or the paper carrier. While I am not an expert on why the milkman concept died, I suspect it became too expensive to maintain, and selling more milk in stores or dealers became the economic model that produced the largest profits. Might the newspaper industry be heading in the same direction? Will the paperboy or delivery person take their place along the milkman in our history. If so, we need to do a better job of building a relationship with our single-copy dealers.

When a newspaper starts a new single-copy dealer what do you do? How much time and effort do you put into establishing a good working relationship with not only new but existing dealers? The newspaper industry has to keep in mind that newspapers do not generally have the profit margin that many other products in stores have and most stores measure their success based on revenue per square foot.

Granted, the old theory that newspapers draw customers into a store is a good one though that theorem has taken hit in recent years. If you want to keep that prime time position by the cash register, my advice is to keep the store manager happy. The relationship between a newspaper and its over the counter retailers is an important one and an often overlooked one. A newspaper needs to develop a complete packet of single-copy sales material and information to help the retailer “Draw Customers In.” Here are some suggestions for your packet.

Set up with the packet with single-sheet fliers so that a single-copy manager can “customize” their presentation for the particular outlet that he or she is calling on.

First there should be a background/research sheet that provides facts such as average income of the readers, age, education level, etc. Then put in different newspaper display sheets so that the stores are shown the best display options for their location. They include: standard in store displays, foldaway and pushcart style racks for merchandising high volume Sunday outlets, and point of purchase displays such as stack sheets and wobblers. Don’t forget to include material that explains your “Adopt a School Program” and of course advertising opportunities.

It addition to all of this, the retailer should be given a retailer guide, which has a question and answer section on basic questions like, When to expect delivery? What’s the UPC code? And what happens to unsold copies?

An illustration of an example weekly invoice should be included with highlights and explanations. Important numbers and names to remember are also in this sturdy guide that the retailer can keep for easy reference. If you have a large ethnic community you may want make all of this available in other languages such as Spanish, Russian or Japanese for example.

It’s a great attempt to build a business relationship with the people who are responsible for such a large portion of your core circulation.

© Bob Bobber 2011

Bob Bobber is a newspaper consultant specializing in circulation sales, training and public speaking. You contact him at

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