More ideas on how to generate income for your local newspaper

Chip Hutcheson

May 1, 2024

May should be one of your top ad revenue months — there’s Mother’s Day, graduation and Memorial Day, and plenty of opportunities to draw non-traditional advertisers.

Revenue. Why don’t we hear that word more in newspaper settings? Is it because the word “cut” has become the mantra of far too many

If revenue is the focus, then cut does not become the mindset. Newspapers must make money to survive, and the principle that “you cannot cut your way to prosperity” should incentivize newspapers to focus on how to bring in more money.

Pub Aux readers are fed a healthy dose of revenue ideas from Robert Williams. We’ll not try to rival what he does but will throw in a few advertising thoughts, then issue a challenge to think outside the box when it comes to generating revenue.

First and foremost, revenue must be part of the newspaper culture. That means everyone who draws a check from the paper should be thinking of revenue. One of the most productive things in my newspaper career was to hold a staff meeting where everyone was involved and asked to share ideas on how we could be more profitable. That means an editor or reporter or circulation person could chime in with ways our paper could bring in more revenue. It’s interesting to get ideas from someone who does not make their living by selling advertising. It paid great dividends having everyone focused on how to bring in more dollars.


• May should be one of your top ad revenue months. There’s Mother’s Day, graduation and Memorial Day — plenty of opportunities to draw non-traditional advertisers. We used the dinky to print an American flag on one side and on the back side sell advertising blocks to veterans organizations, banks, medical businesses and elected local and state officials. We encouraged people and businesses to take that sheet and post it where it could be seen. Attaching it to a window meant that the person on the outside saw the flag, while those on the inside saw the ads. It was an easy sell.

Graduation ads congratulating your local high school seniors can bring in considerable revenue, but it does take time and work! Contact parents and family members, local industries, service companies and regional colleges with ad requests. We always contacted churches and sold ads that featured their church members who were graduating. It’s great PR for the churches and money in your pocket.

We’ll defer to Robert for remaining ideas; let’s turn our attention to other revenue sources.

• Circulation promotions seem to have fallen out of favor in many operations. Reverse that trend. Have a one-day circulation blitz where people can subscribe for a reduced rate. Yes, I know postal costs make that a concern, but increasing circulation has a ripple effect to boost ad sales.

Find a sponsor to pay for papers at the local hospital and nursing homes. Stamp each paper with a message: This paper is given to you courtesy of (and name the sponsor). Contact pharmacies, civic clubs, your largest local industries, the Chamber of Commerce or local medical offices and ask them to sponsor. Banks and insurance agencies are other good options.

• Digital products. This is not my expertise, but there is money in digital. You’ll see regular articles in Pub Aux to help you. But if you want to make money on digital, you must update your website frequently. Look for ways to sell videos on your site. For instance, interview the local football coach before and after the Friday night game, but acquire a sponsor for those. It will generate traffic for your website that can lure advertisers.

• Now, let’s consider some non-traditional revenue sources. Recently, my wife and I were on the way home from vacation when we stopped at a Buc-ee’s in Sevierville, Tennessee — it’s the largest convenience store in the world. And it offers lessons on how any business can rake in revenue. If Buc-ee’s can sell everything but the kitchen sink, then why can’t newspapers follow that model — at least to some extent. The store sold not only gas, but food options too numerous to list, snacks, souvenirs, apparel, cooking grills, fire pits, furniture, artwork, travel products, hunting gear and equipment, as well as phone accessories.

Newspapers don’t have to be a one-trick pony. Don’t miss opportunities by limiting options on products and services offered. Open your mind and talk with your employees about new items you can sell and services you can offer that will increase the bottom line.

• Work with your local schools to develop products that are considered valuable for students. A kid’s magazine with puzzles and coloring options was a profitable annual product for us. It was a mini-tab format and not inserted in the newspaper. Instead, it was distributed free to every student in our local primary school.

That one fact made it an easy sell!

• Consider publishing a book — perhaps on your county’s history or a successful sports team. We published a pictorial history of our community, sold ads and then sold the coffeetable-style hardbound book for a premium. We pre-sold it to prevent having too many leftover copies. Our sports editor did a book on our high school’s 100 years of football history. If I had it to do over again, we would have sold ads in it. Still, at $39.99 a copy, it brought in significant revenue.

• Few newspapers these days offer printing services. That can be quite lucrative without requiring a major investment. In many smaller communities, there is no local printing company. Fill that void by lining up third–party vendors. You take the orders, outsource the work to a trade-only printer, mark it up 30 percent and you make money while providing a much-needed service.

• Specialty products — ink pens, cups, mugs, caps and shirts with logos — all can be sources of revenue. As with printing, find a company you can partner with. Political yard signs are in demand during election season. Candidates will buy them; keep those dollars in your community by being the middle man to meet that need. You become the hero, and the PR will be valuable as well as providing unexpected revenue.

• Collaborate with your Chamber of Commerce to determine what opportunities are there you might not be aware of. It was not uncommon for an outside company to come to our town to sell a community map. We developed such a strong relationship with the Chamber that anytime an outside firm came seeking the Chamber’s endorsement for a project, the Chamber would not give that endorsement; instead, they would check with us to see if it was something we could provide. Strong relationships will help thwart attempts by outside companies that want to siphon off revenue from you.

Some of these are ambitious projects, but they contribute to your revenue goal, generate great public relations and build your brand. What’s essential? Get everyone on the payroll to buy in and contribute. The rewards are worth the headaches.

Chip Hutcheson is the retired publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton, Kentucky. He was NNA president in 2015. He currently serves as a content strategist for Kentucky Today, the online news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.