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GROWTH CAN HAPPEN ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY Smaller publishers have success starting new editions for the weekend.

Never on Sunday? Well, why not? That's what an increasing number of publishers are saying.

While the number of daily newspapers declined by 118 from 1991 to 2001, Sunday editions increased by 39 during the same period.

Circulation followed the same trends. Daily sales decreased by more than 5 million from 1991 to 2001 while Sunday circulation increased by almost 3 million during these same 10 years (all these figures are from the Newspaper Association of America).

So Sunday is one of the few sunny spots to be found in these days of circulation problems and advertising declines in the newspaper business.

The new Sunday editions have been started by publishers of dailies in smaller markets, and none of the Sunday start-ups has failed. All are still operating with varying degrees of success and profitability.

What the new Sunday publishers have tapped into is a day when people have more time and inclination to read and also a day that is a good opportunity for advertisers. Readership surveys show that people spend twice as much time with a Sunday paper as with a daily -- 60 minutes versus 30.

Though one publisher thinks his new Sunday edition has hurt that of competing metro papers, most readers appear to be keeping their existing metro edition while adding the new hometown Sunday papers to their day.

Also, the new Sunday papers are generally in cities and towns on the fringes of Sunday metro circulation areas where the metro sales have never been large. In some cases medium-size papers come into the circulation areas of the start-ups, but again it is fringe circulation.

There are, however, still far more daily papers than Sunday editions. The 1468 dailies published in 2001 outnumbered the 913 Sunday editions by 555.

NEWEST ENTRY

The newest Sunday paper is being published by Maryland's Frederick News-Post, a 119-year-old family-owned newspaper 50 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. The decision to go Sunday came after the paper closed its evening edition earlier this year. The combined circulation of its morning and evening publications was 42,353, according to March 31, 2002, figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The first edition of the Sunday News-Post was published on Oct. 13 and consisted of five sections plus eight pages of color comics and USA Weekend as well as several inserts. The sections included general news, editorial and op-ed pages, sports and business, a features section called Horizons, a travel and outdoors section and a classified section, for a total of 88 pages.

Nancy Luce, assistant managing editor, said two reporters and a copy editor were hired because of the additional workload, but no additions were made to the advertising, circulation or production departments.

The News-Post is also using free-lancers to write about such topics as life in Frederick, local politics and "the good old days." Frederick is an old colonial town with much revolutionary and civil war history. It also was the home of Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star Spangled Banner."

As part of the Sunday launch the entire paper was redesigned and new features were added to the daily paper including more health and fitness news, additional home and family features and new columns, such as one on pets and another on being a grandparent.

Months of planning went into the new Sunday paper. Extensive use was made of focus groups where editors heard from readers who wanted more news in general and particularly more in-depth features.

To promote the Sunday edition ads in the daily paper and radio spots were used, all with the slogan, "Know More, Do More, Live More." On the Saturday after the launch the News-Post hosted a cocktail party for news sources and advertisers.

Both the Washington Post -- with a Sunday circulation of more than a million -- and the Baltimore Sun -- with Sunday circulation approaching half a million -- come into the Frederick market, but Luce said the surveys indicated that local residents wanted their own Sunday paper.

NEW SLOGAN FOR SUNDAY

Three years ago Indiana's Goshen News, owned by Gray Television Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., started a Sunday paper, which, according to its Publisher John Reynolds, has been quite successful. Its circulation is 16,393 compared with daily sales of 16,893.

It, too, has five sections -- general news, sports, features, news aimed at a youth readership and classifieds. The paper also carries color comics and advertising inserts.

Like the News-Post, the Goshen News is an old paper, having been founded 135 years ago. So the slogan, "It's About Time," that the paper chose to promote its Sunday edition was quite appropriate.

"A lot of people used to ask us when we were going to have a Sunday paper," Publisher Reynolds noted. "So we knew without doing too much surveying that there was a market out there, and the Sunday edition has been absolutely great from a revenue standpoint from the very beginning."

To tie in with the "It's About Time" slogan, the paper sent desk clocks imprinted with the slogan to advertisers and news sources. An additional reporter was added to the news staff and two more people were hired on for the pressroom.

Goshen's Sunday competitors are the 30,000-circulation Elkhart Truth and the South Bend Tribune with more than 100,000 sales on Sunday. Reynolds thinks that his paper has had a significant impact on the other two papers.

Elsewhere in Indiana a new Sunday start-up, simply called Sunday, serves the News-Sun in Kendallville, the Evening Star in Auburn and the Herald-Republican in Angola.

The total circulation of Sunday, which was established 30 months ago, is 17,844, a little less than the combined daily sales of the three papers of 18,099. All three papers are owned by Kendallville Publishing Co. whose chief executive is Terry Householder.

"We've been successful with Sunday from both a news and advertising standpoint," Householder said. "Sunday classified is strong, particularly real estate, and we have a lot of inserts from such places as Home Depot, Lowes and a local group of stores."

Householder added only one full-time reporter to his staff. No additions were made to advertising, circulation or production departments. The Sunday paper is put together in Kendallville with contributions from the staffs of all three dailies.

Both the Goshen and Kendallville publishers report that little advertising has been transferred from daily to Sunday budgets. So Sunday represents a net gain for the most part. The two operations plus Frederick also have set advertising rates to encourage daily-Sunday buys or Friday-Saturday-Sunday combinations. None of the papers pushes Sunday-only subscriptions, preferring to sell daily-Sunday packages.

Householder's chief competitor for Sunday circulation is Fort Wayne's Journal Gazette, and its Sunday circulation has actually increased the past year by 1500 to 129,435.

GOOD RESPONSE

Still another new Sunday paper is at West Virginia's Weirton Daily Times, owned by Ogden Publishing Co. of Wheeling, W.Va. Started just this September, the Sunday edition has had "a good response," Managing Editor Richard Crofton said. He noted that its circulation was already about 25 percent greater than the daily figure of 6234.

The Sunday edition consists of six sections totaling 48 pages and also includes inserts. Only one person was added to the news staff before the Sunday edition began. "People are now saying, 'How did we ever get along without a Sunday paper,'" Crofton noted.

The metro competition here comes from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which has a total Sunday circulation of more than 400,000.

The Journal Register Co. of Trenton, N.J., has started six Sunday editions since 1994, the latest last March. Robert Jelenic, chairman, president and chief executive of the company said that all the new Sunday papers "are going great."

The papers are in Norristown and Landsdale, Pa., Taunton, Mass., Massillon, Ohio, Torrington, Conn., and a single publication serving New Britain, Middletown and Bristol, Conn. Circulations range from 9000 to 31,000.

All the papers include several sections, color comics, USA Weekend and advertising inserts. "Sunday is the No. One day for advertisers," Jelenic noted. "And so we just filled a void. It's unquestionably the day advertisers want the most. We are doing especially well with inserts, and we haven't lost any daily advertising."

Jelenic also said that the Sunday papers are produced with minimal staff additions. "The Journal Register papers are clustered," he pointed out. "All our papers feed off the other papers. We are truly synergized."

The biggest problem he has encountered with Sunday start-ups, Jelenic said, has been persuading carriers to work on Sunday mornings. "Many simply do not want to work on Sundays," he added. But he has had some success by offering incentives for Sunday distribution.

Jelenic's major metro competitors are the 760,026-circulation Philadelphia Inquirer, owned by Knight Ridder of San Jose, and the 288,214-circulation Hartford Courant, a Tribune Co. of Chicago, paper.

Across the country in Oregon the Albany Democrat-Herald, owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., of Davenport, Iowa, twinned its established Sunday paper, Mid-Valley Sunday, with the Corvallis Gazette-Times after Lee bought that paper in 1997.

As noted earlier, such combinations are another trend in Sunday publications. Martha Wells, who is publisher of the Albany paper and also oversees the Sunday paper, says that it has been a success from the standpoint of both readers and advertisers.

The Sunday paper has five sections with a total of up to 48 pages plus four pages of color comics, USA Weekend and inserts from such advertisers as Sears, Target and Best Buy. Advertising rates have been set to encourage both daily and Sunday buys and combinations.

Circulation on Sunday is 32,304, about equal to the combined daily circulation of 31,087 for the two dailies. The metro competition comes from The Oregonian in Portland, owned by Advance Publications Inc. of Staten Island, N.Y. The Oregonian's circulation is more than 400,000 and the paper is available throughout the state.

ASSESS THE MARKET

Nick Monico, who is now president of the Newspaper Network of Central Ohio, a unit of Gannett Co. Inc. of McLean, Va., started three Sunday papers when he was with Thomson, which shut down its newspaper division and sold its papers two years ago, and he has some advice based on his experiences.

"In all cases," he said from his office in Newark, Ohio, "you must carefully assess the market and be sure there is a void to be filled. People want local news and features. If a metro comes into the market, it does not serve local needs with local stories and local advertising."

Before starting Sunday papers, Monico surveyed the markets and organized focus groups. The surveys found people wanted more local news, more in-depth news coverage, more sports news and, particularly, more lifestyle information to help dual-wage-earning families. "People particularly wanted to know how to organize their time to get the most out of their lives," he noted.

The Sunday papers he started were at the 21,136-circulation the Evening Sun of Hanover, Pa., in 1989; the 21,553-circulation Sauk Valley Sunday as part of the Sterling, Ill., Daily Gazette in 1991, and Ohio's 16,231-circulation Chillicothe Gazette in 1999.

Metro competitors are the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune with more than a million circulation and the 772,000-circulation Columbus Dispatch.

The Hanover paper is now owned by MediaNews Group Inc. of Denver; the Sterling paper by Shaw Newspapers of Dixon, Ill., and the Chillicothe paper by Gannett.

And why aren't there more smaller dailies starting Sunday papers now that good track records have been set by that many papers?

Monico, for one, says that he doesn't have the answer to that question. He doesn't think that size alone is significant, pointing out that the Coshocton Tribune, one of the papers in his group, is doing very well with a circulation of only 7585.

"The challenge is," Monico said, "whether you have a strong enough base to leverage a Sunday publication, from the standpoint of readers as well as advertisers. Remember, too that you can't out-metro the metros. And bigger is not necessarily better. What is so important is local, local, local."

-- Julius Duscha, e-mail: julius@newsinc.net
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Date:Oct 21, 2002
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