Papers chase markets to add reach

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As spanish-language newspapers in America number more than 700, publishers are vying for the readership of the country's largest minority.

Both free and paid, tabloid and broad-sheet-the newspapers are published by established powerhouses and family concerns. Companies are launching or buying bilingual and Spanish-language papers, forming partnerships and developing Hispanic sections or supplements. Last year that reach led to a circulation scandal. Bolstered by greater marketing dollars directed at Hispanics, a group that has swelled to 35 million, observers expect the number and quality of Hispanic newspapers to grow for another two to five years.

Four such papers come from Meximerica Media. Last July, the company started rolling out daily tabloids in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley. Called Rumbo, they report Mexican, U.S. and foreign news as well as carry lifestyle, sports and health articles. The paper is delivered free to some heavily Hispanic neighborhoods-near big retail outlets-but most copies are sold for 25¢. CEO Edward Schumacher Matos says free home delivery is designed to spark single-copy sales elsewhere as well as guarantee advertisers a certain level of distribution.

BEST WAY TO REACH LATINOS

"We didn't want to wait for those single-copy sales to grow to the levels that are attractive for advertisers. We wanted to give it to them right now," Mr. Schumacher says.

Founded in part by Mr. Schumacher Matos and another former executive from The Wall Street Journal, Meximerica was bought in 2004 by Spain's Recoletos Grupo de Comunicacion, which backed the first four launches with $16.5 million. He says the company is trying to determine the most effective way to reach Latinos: "It could be that the best distribution model is a free model, but we're not convinced of that yet. The mixed model will allow us to go either direction."

Danielle Gonzales, media director for Publicis Groupe's Tapestry, says free makes sense. "Most of the papers have been free for so long that consumers kind of expect free, so asking them to pay 25¢ or 50¢ . . . is a bit of a challenge," she says.

Advertisers spent $1.1 billion on national and local Spanish-language print ads in 2003, up from $141 million in 1990, according to the Latino Print Network, which conducts research for Spanish-language publications. It estimates the Hispanic market as a whole receives $4 billion in marketing, compared with about $300 billion for the general market. That's about 1% of spending for 12.5% of the population, though the figure is expected to rise.

CHAIN IN THE PLANS

Newspapers have improved their sales pitch, but they must continue to work on it, says Douglas Knight, chairman-CEO of ImpreMedia, which publishes El Diario/La Prensa in New York, La Opinion in Los Angeles (the country's No. 1 Hispanic daily) and the La Raza weekly in Chicago. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are three of the 10 U.S. cities with Hispanic populations exceeding 1 million. He says research will be top priority for ImpreMedia as it steps up its courtship of national marketers. ImpreMedia so wants a chain of national publications that while its first choice is to shop for premier papers in the country's largest Latino markets, it would also consider launching them, Mr. Knight says.

Competition remains fierce. Late last year, Tribune Co.'s Hoy was forced to almost halve its New York circulation from the end of 2002 through part of 2003 after an Audit Bureau of Circulations investigation. The adjustment shifted Hoy from New York's No. 1 to No. 2, based on Audit Bureau figures, and again landed El Diario/La Prensa at the top spot with a daily paid circulation of 50,132. In the wake of the circulation scandal, the Tribune decided to make the Chicago and Los Angeles papers free. "We were giving up upside opportunities on advertising revenue to get a lousy quarter for a newspaper that wasn't even covering the cost of printing and distributing it," says Digby Solomon Diez, publisher-CEO of Hoy. He says the paper still wants to offer advertisers one-stop access for Latinos in top markets, but it has tempered expansion. "We don't want to leap into new markets until we have exploited the growth in our existing markets."

Other major players include Knight Ridder, whose holdings include El Nuevo Herald , the sibling of The Miami Herald, as well as Dallas' La Estrella. La Estrella had been a free weekly until last year when Belo Corp., which owns The Dallas Morning News, said it would launch the daily Al Dia. Knight Ridder answered by expanding La Estrella to five days per week.

In Orlando, El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest daily, rolled out in September 2003. A tabloid, it sells for 25¢ with content heavy on classified ads. It since has decided home delivery works better than the single-copy sales, says Jaime Segura, general manager of El Nuevo Dia in Florida. It plans on expanding into Tampa.

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