Friday, November 6, 2009

Readership, advertising and profits

By any measurement, print and online readership of newspapers in general and the Post Register in particular has never been greater.

Unlike most other media, newspaper readership is audited annually under strict standards. Those audits show the Post Register’s total paid print circulation is the same as it was in 2005. Total “paid circulation”, including print and online subscribers, is at an all-time high. But that tells only a portion of the story.

The Post Register owns or contributes to five major web sites:,,, (our classified web site) and (our obituary web site) attract 160,000 visitors and 943,000 page views a month. I’ll repeat here what I wrote in our company newsletter last week:

“Those are very healthy numbers that are up significantly from a year ago. Still, business is not exactly booming. Why? It’s not about readership or page views. It’s about turning readers and web surfers into profit. Quite simply, advertising is down, not readership. The economy is soft, people are holding onto their money and profits are off.

“But the engine of our business – paid readership – is strong as ever. This will provide the foundation for our eventual recovery.”

Like nearly every business here in eastern Idaho, the Post Register has reduced staffing and tightened its belt more than once. A recession requires businesses to make painful decisions and we’ve had to make our share. We’ll continue try to use the right mix of prudence and creativity as things inevitably begin to improve.

But we still believe in a fundamental premise – you are willing to pay a reasonable price for real local journalism, and you know the difference between journalism and the entertainment-tinged stuff that a lot of media outlets are trying to pass for journalism nowadays. The simple business model of the 20th century won’t work in the 21st, but there are successful business models waiting to be found.

There continues an elusive and, so far, only partially successful search for new business models. Revenues are down as the meat and potatoes of our business – retail and classified advertising – suffers through an unprecedented slump. For some of our competitors, this has been too much and they’ve disappeared. For others like us, it’s meant a pretty severe belt-tightening.

We continue to produce a newspaper that has more local news than any other half-dozen sources combined, and we’re doing it with a clean, modern design using state-of-the-art equipment. Prudent decision-making and continuing to put out the world’s best paper for eastern Idaho will see us through.

Manwhile, there remains no evidence, no reason to believe, no trends in the markets, to support the notion that news sites populated with content from citizen journalists and supported solely by already-stressed advertising dollars will provide that long-sought sustainable business model. No, none at all.

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