NOLA Notes: Maximizing print income in college media
Another in a series of posts drawn from notes taken at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans.
For all the well-deserved attention on the shift to digital consumption of news, there are two important reasons most of us in college media are not ready to abandon print newspapers:
- Print is still the way many students prefer to get campus news (60 percent according to a 2011 survey). We are all right to be concerned about whether that number is on the way down. But even campus papers recording drops still report numbers that would make off-campus papers green with envy.
- Print advertising profit is vital for most student media programs. We need that money to fund the training it will take to fuel that vital digital innovation.
So one of my priorities in New Orleans was hearing about ways to maximize print income. What follows may not be surprising for advisers who are heavily involved in advertising and distribution. But for those like me who’ve spent more time on newsroom matters, this may be helpful.
(Note: What the newsroom produces is also important for print success, including designing a cover to appeal to new readers.)
In no particular order, here are some income-oriented steps from three successful programs. One has moved from daily to weekly publication. Two are still daily and doing well.
Jason Manning, director of student media at Arizona State University:
- The State Press dropped from five issues per week to one this year.
- Ad revenue has increased 10 percent.
- The key was that Manning wrangled permission to deliver the paper to the 7,000 doors in student housing. Advertisers love it. The pitch is that they get dorm delivery on Day One and then continued exposure in racks for a week.
Erica Perel, newsroom adviser at The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina:
- More racks. The DTH has increased from 50 racks to 190 with same press run. Today’s student won’t walk out of the way for a paper.
- Audit pickups from racks. Move racks as needed. Even 20 feet can make a big difference. Students carrying phones and coffee cups may not pick up a paper on the way to class. But they might at the cafeteria where they’re going to sit down for a while.
- Staff members “adopt” a rack. They take 20 papers off a rack as they head into class and hand out copies.
- Street teams to hawk papers.
- Get the paper on the street earlier in the day. The DTH wants papers on racks by 8 a.m. And if they make it by 6 a.m., “we have massively improved pickup.”
- Doorknob delivery. The DTH hasn’t been able to get permission for dorm delivery, but they’re putting papers on doorknobs at some apartment complexes. “People love it.”
- “DTH and a doughnut” giveaways a couple of times a month.
Candace Baltz, general manager of The Daily Evergreen at Washington State University:
- The program was running at a loss and nearly out of reserve cash when she arrived, so cost-cutting had to accompany the push for new revenue.
- Baltz tightened the basic configuration of the daily paper to 8 pages. Opinion and Life sections run on alternate days. She believes advertisers like a smaller paper on the theory that students will see every page — and every ad.
- For special projects, Baltz recruits “community sponsors” to increase page counts. So when students decided to do a project on dangerous drinking, the local hospital signed on as the sponsor. The hospital got a two-inch strip along the bottom of the two-page spread. And the ad paid to increase the paper by four pages, so the paper got space for the special project plus two more pages of content.
- Baltz created a front-page ad space, a 2-inch strip on the bottom of the pape. She sold it for the same price as a half-page black-and-white ad inside. It sold almost every day.
- She also sold a 2-inch strip on the sports page. The athletic department bought it for an entire semester.
- She created a single sponsorship for the five special “Sports Weekend” sections previewing home football games. For one price, the sponsor got a 2-inch-strip on each page, a full page ad on the back cover, and a nice-looking “stamp” on the cover. (An off-campus bookstore bought it.) The package was priced to cover the sections’ entire printing cost. So all other ads sold in those sections were profit.
- Baltz made graduation “shout out” wishes free, but sold a strip on the page to an advertiser at a big premium.
- Baltz struck a deal with the local daily to sell space in the Evergreen to local prospects who never had bought ads from the student ad staff. The in-town paper takes an agency commission. (She stressed this was only for prospects who were longstanding non-advertisers.)
- As of late October, Baltz was on track to record a profit in 2013 — the first in at least a decade.