The president and publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal delivered a rousing defense of the newspaper industry a couple of weeks ago in a speech that was just published yesterday. Arnold Garson used facts, statistics and a few points of information we hadn’t seen before to argue that the industry’s impending doom is greatly over-exaggerated, concluding that “The Courier-Journal will publish my obituary and yours, but not its own.” The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) should make him an industry spokesman.
The 3,400-word speech is well worth reading its own right, but here are the Cliff Notes of what Garson said:
- Yes, some newspapers have closed this year, but compared to the carnage among auto dealers and real estate brokers, the industry looks pretty good. Markets can adjust without collapsing.
- The Courier-Journal has cut back just like everybody else. That’s part of running a sustainable business.
- The most troubled newspapers today are those covered by now-irrelevant duopoly agreements that have kept weak competitors afloat. “Newspapers in Joint Operating Agreements are going to disappear,” he said, adding that this consolidation process has been going on for over a decade.
- The Courier-Journal‘s market penetration is up five percent over the last two years. The company’s print, online and mobile products now reach 85% of the adults in its core market every week and touch them an average of 5.6 times each week. By contrast, this year’s Super Bowl reached only 41.5% of the US adult population.
- One of the reasons is that the Courier-Journal has the dominant local website in its market.
- The big reason circulation is trending down? “Do Not Call. This federal legislation enacted in 2003 shut down overnight the newspaper industry’s No. 1 subscriber acquisition tool, and the only acquisition method that is economically efficient.” Garson added that Do Not Call legislation forced publishers to revise their business models, which had been based on high churn and low acquisition cost, to models based on high retention. This transition triggered circulation declines, but the situation is stabilizing.
- Young adults do read newspapers. Garson said his printed newspaper reaches 74 percent of the 18-34 year-olds in its market every week.
Wrapping up a persuasive argument, Garson imagines holding a press conference to announce a new product called a newspaper to a world that had only known electronic publishing. He ticks off the advantages: compact, professionally organized, factual, porn-free and you can read it on an airplane. The NAA should package up this idea instead of its current baffling Rube Goldberg campaign.
Clearly, not all publishers are the Courier-Journal. Judging from Garson’s commentary, the paper understood some time ago that it needed to focus itself locally and use all the channels its customers were using. There are also undoubtedly some factors that are unique to Louisville that support the Courier-Journal‘s relative health.
However, there are lessons any publishing executive can learn from Garson’s spirited defense. Statistics can work two ways and this publisher has dug up a few that make his business prospects look pretty good.
This entry was posted on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 7:50 am and is filed under BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Layoffs, Local news, NewMedia, Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.