Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let It Grow

The Jayhawk-bound managing editor mentioned in a previous post wrote on Feb. 10, in a column that has gone behind the paid wall, about the circulation successes of the Indianapolis Star.

"In just 18 months since our last research, The Star has added 115,000 readers during the course of a week for the daily and Sunday newspapers. This growth means that we now reach 72 percent of all adults 18 years and older, or 849,900 people in the eight-county Central Indiana market each week -- and we reach each of them 4.2 times per week. That figure was 64 percent 18 months ago. When we add in our Web site..." and then she does, and it goes up by 10 percent.

So Pam Fine asks the question: "But how did The Star grow readership of our print newspaper in the face of industry conditions that in many cases show the opposite trend? We listened to our readers and made changes to our newspaper based on what you told us. The main change? Much more local news. We added the Carmel Star, Fishers Star, Greenwood Star, Zionsville Star, Hendricks County Star, West Indy Star, East Indy Star, North Indy Star and Westfield Star."

Well, they've got the Internet in Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Zionsville, Hendricks County, Westfield and the city of Indianapolis. And in Sioux City, where the editor recently crowed about growth both in print and online there.

As noted in a previous post, it's a lot easier to do this sort of stuff in the Midwest. Costs are lower, competition is less, metro newspapers have higher penetration to begin with and thus a stronger hold on inserts, and the core urban area just keeps expanding out into endless farmland instead of running into cities with their own media markets. (Although Indianapolis is now completely surrounded by a ring of suburban dailies -- in Lebanon, Noblesville, Greenfield, Shelbyville, Franklin, Martinsville and Plainfield.) So they're going to have to bear some of the research and development costs for deciding what works while those of us on the coasts batten down the hatches.

But so, the answer for the Star is -- Neighbors. What we've been told is the answer for 25 years, and what we've all concluded doesn't work. Revenue can't justify expense, etc. Well, at least this year, it works for the Indianapolis Star. My correspondent in Indianapolis, also known as my mother, sent me some copies of her Neighbors zone, and in a forthcoming post we'll look at what's in them.

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