The circulation at the nation’s largest newspapers dropped again over the past six months by an average of 2.6 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. To try to fight the perception that newspapers are of less interest or value to consumers, the industry has decided to revise circulation numbers to include both online and print newspaper readers, rather than just print. The Audit Bureau of Circulation print figures will be added to readership numbers produced by Scarborough Reports for more than 200 newspapers in their home markets. Initial numbers, according to The New York Times, indicate that among 88 major newspapers about half had no significant change in combined print and online readership.
The problem with this strategy is that advertisers have generally not considered online readers to be worth as much as print readers. That is because print circulation generally means the number of newspapers consumers pay for, whereas with few exceptions, online readership is free. As Larry Small, vice president of research for the Yellow Pages Association, told me, newspapers are driven by their editorial content. They go to newspapers primarily for information, news and analysis, whether it is on paper or on the Web.
Yellow Pages publishers have also been looking to combine print and online look-ups, but it is a different environment because people are looking for products and services, not for any news and analysis. While overall print look-ups declined from 14.5 billion in 2005 to 13.4 billion in 2006, the IYP numbers grew from 2.6 billion to 3.3 billion. So the overall decline for the entire year was just over 2 percent.
Yellow Pages publishers need to maintain their circulation if they are going to continue to show the strong profit margins investors are used to. We believe it is time for the industry to advertise the value of Yellow Pages once again, rather than leaving advertising spending to each publisher. Consumers, and even most advertisers, don’t differentiate between Yellow Pages directories so ad spend by one directory often cancels out advertising by another (think presidential debates). While the U.S. Yellow Pages trade associations are contemplating a merger, we hope that part of the discussion will relate to significant contributions by members to advertise the utility, ease-of-use and high return on investment of both print and Internet Yellow Pages.
The subject of local media and directories converging will be discussed in a general session at The Kelsey Group’s ILM:07 conference Nov. 28-30 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles.