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Audience Matters More Than Circulation

Stored in Online Newspapers and tagged

Declining newspaper circulation and television viewership seem inevitable, but declining audience is not.

The answer lies in embracing the decline of circulation / viewership and replacing it with online audiences. And the audiences do not have to be local, despite the local focus of the typical newspaper and TV station. Nothing prevents them from building regional or even national niche sites that reuse some of their existing content in a resource-efficient way.

The Newspaper Association of America has embraced the concept of total audience by reporting the combined print and online audiences in each local market. The numbers should give the industry reason for some optimism.

Unfortunately, it is hard for circulation directors to be optimistic when their jobs are limited to responsibility only for the papers and not for the Web sites. That thought brings the question to mind: Why not put them in charge of both? Why not unleash decades of audience management onto the Web sites?

The customer service capabilities of newspaper circulation departments alone will do much to build their online audiences.

Some executives may fear that giving them both products will let them off the hook with circulation numbers. But the executives should be able to overcome that reluctance with job descriptions, budget targets and compensation plans that ensure a well-balanced focus on both priorities.

Answers are more difficult for the problem of declining circulation revenue. In fact, decline circulation revenue is escalating from both the decline in circulation and what appears to be growing discounts to the rate. So the point may be moot.

Regardless, online presents opportunities for numerous niche revenue streams that ultimately may make up for some of the difference. How much remains a big unknown.

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