The times of Shreveport, La., became the first newspaper to standardize readership data in 1998 to help media buyers and advertisers compare markets.
Today, the Gannett Co. publication still feels a bit "out there by ourselves," says Bob Faricy, market development director.
According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, only 62 papers have signed up for its ' "Newspaper Reader Profile Service." The low participation has disappointed media buyers and advertisers that view the effort as a measure of newspapers' commitment to their advertisers.
NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH
"I'm honestly perplexed at why more newspapers are not moving forward faster," says Matthew Spahn, director of media planning and analysis for Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Media buyers are also frustrated at the lack of readership audits.
"Our internal media group calls newspaper ad people the last great frontiersmen. They work off a very old model, trying to sell space based off [that model]. It's very hard for us to customize our buys," says Michelle Fitzgerald, a media supervisor at Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.
At a time when fewer than 60% of adults read a daily newspaper and circulation is continuing to slip, the nation's $54 billion newspaper industry is trying to find a way to bring back readers and attract advertisers.
According to Competitive Media Reporting, total ad spending in daily newspapers was up 9.4% to $17.65 billion dollars in 1999 compared with 1998 spending. Daily newspapers comprised 20.2% of all media spending, nearly the same as the previous year. Advertiser spending in national newspapers rose 20.6% in 1999 to $3.21 billion from the previous year. In 1999, national newspapers comprised 3.7% of all media spending, up from 3.4% in 1998.
The Newspaper Association of America, which offers somewhat different numbers, also reports total spending was up 5.4% to $46.3 billion, the smallest percentage gain in six years. National spending was up 17.7% to $6.7 billion, the biggest percentage gain since 1976.
Meanwhile, circulation has slipped over the last five years by more than 5% during the week and by 3.6% on Sundays, according to NAA. In 1990, circulation for 1,611 newspapers was about 62 million.
Jim Conaghan, VP-market & business analysis for the NAA, says he expected overall circulation to remain fairly flat compared with '98. In '98, circulation for the 1,489 newspapers was 56 million for the nation's morning and evening daily newspapers.
The state of readership isn't much healthier; about 57% of adults are daily readers, a figure that has steadily declined. Several efforts are under way to reverse the slide.
EXPANDING PAID CIRC DEFINITION
In July, an ABC task force is expected to lay out recommendations for broadening the definition of paid circulation.
Separately, more than 100 papers are participating in a readership initiative studying content. The five-year study is being conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Media Management Center at Northwestern University and NAA.
"It is not going to mask the fact that less people are reading the paper," says Steve Seraita, a senior VP-print media and advertiser and advertising agency sales at Scar- borough Research. "The decline is there. In my opinion, 56% of the population performing the act of reading the newspaper in the year 2000 is not too short of miraculous, given the options out there."
Advertisers say they want information on who is buying the newspaper and who is reading it. ABC's audited circulation figures can provide quantitative data that preprint advertisers need. Standardized readership data, provided by a multitude of services and audited by ABC, fleshes out the rest of the story.
For example, in mid-April, the media buying team at Target Stores received standardized readership profiles from Knight-Ridder's Duluth (Minn.) News-Tribune and A.H. Belo Corp.'s The Providence (R.I.) Journal.
MAKING A DISCOVERY
The media-buying team "started to look at the ethnicity breakout, and it was just a discovery," says Terry Prill, Target's newspaper strategist. "Media-buying teams get so excited when they have that kind of information at their fingertips. I like to say the readership [data] puts the flesh on the bone. You get to the house and then you want to know who is in it.
"The piece that's always been hard to get our hands around is readership," she says. "The issue has been, if I'm working with 500 newspapers, I get 500 different formats of readership. With the lack of comparable readership data, it's this vast unknown."
Ms. Prill and Mr. Spahn say they also are increasingly hearing about new sections, services and redesigns -- information they like to receive because it shows a paper's commitment to staying in touch with a community.
After conducting detailed surveys about readers, the News-Tribune launched new sections on the outdoors, food and community news.
"The advertisers are following as we get the readership," says Mary Jacobus, president-publisher of the News-Tribune. She says most of the new advertisers are mainly local mom-and-pop businesses, but national advertiser Ace Hardware now runs ads in the food section.
Increasingly, national advertisers are looking for more targeted buys.
United Airlines is buying ads touting its brand in regional editions of national newspapers and is only buying one newspaper in local markets. It picks what it decides is the leadership paper most read by its corporate road warriors.
"There are those advertisers who seek saturation, and there are others who are very tuned to specific geography as well as very specific demographic information," says Scott Harding, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Newspaper Services of America, a media planning organization that buys $1.6 billion of advertising annually. "There are more advertisers who want to target the medium."
This summer, Central Newspapers' Arizona Republic will experiment with address-specific delivery of advertising inserts. The test will be facilitated by demographic data downloaded to computers installed in 1,600 delivery vehicles.
That means specific customer data will be available at the point of distribution. Ultimately, readers could be delivered newspaper products and sections catering to their specific interests.
"What if I can unbundle the newspaper?" says John Oppedahl, publisher, president-CEO of the Arizona-Republic. "That's pretty different."