It is no secert that Newspaper sales across the country are down and newspapers are having a hard time adapting to new technology and customer trends. In this post I am going to use Fargo’s local newspaper The Forum as an example for my Newspaper Marketing Ideas.

The Forum has been around a very long time and because of that it has seen the twilight years of journalism come and now go. Some of its most prized sources of revenue are drying up and even disappearing completely. I can’t blame the people who are shifting their advertising dollars away from newspapers into other sources. When you get better value elsewhere, it’s only natural to pursue it.

Issues facing newspapers

One of the newspaper’s bread and butter sections is the classified section. The problem is some guy named Craig came up with an idea of a free online classified website. It took a while but now people are using it, a lot, even in small towns.

My girlfriend runs a dog running business in Fargo and is a former employee of The Forum. In an attempt to drum up business and clients, she took out a classified ad in the paper and waited for the clients to roll in. It cost her $140 for a one-inch by one-inch ad. Nothing happened. People just don’t look through the paper for certain information anymore.

The natural progression was to post a free listing on Craigslist about her new service. Sure enough, she got multiple calls, emails and clients from this free website. Can you see a problem here?

This is a problem for all the newspapers that make money off classifieds and ads.

The good news for newspapers sales is that most are small and pretty local. This is a great opportunity from them to mimic the actions of Craigslist and others and get people to their own website by offering a similar service.

But how will they make money by offering this for free? Simply, they won’t, other than through paid ad placements on those listings. For example, businesses might be interested in newspaper advertising where related companies have posted free listings. A little competition, perhaps.

At the top of its site, The Forum boasts having 9,308,484 pages for November 2009. All of North Dakota has approximately 641,000 citizens, by the way. All that web traffic is great for The Forum, except anyone going to its web site for the first time is greeted with a wall garden (login form). If you’re not a member, you must become one in order to read the article. I simply hit the back button. What a shame.

I bet that out of those 9 million “pages” viewed on The Forum, the number one page is its login page. How can that possibly help generate revenue? It doesn’t. One time I visited drudgereport.com and noticed an article about an Ozzy Osbourne concert in Fargo and how the local police used the concert to nab wanted criminals by offering them free concert tickets.

Drudge Report gets over 600 million hits a month! So, all of those people reading Drudge clicked to see The Forum’s story about Ozzy and instead they were greeted with a login screen! Epic FAIL! How many of those people do you think registered to read the article? I bet 1% did.

In fact, if you do manage to register, you were automatically re-directed back to the home page, requiring you to go back and find the original link to the article you wanted (I believed this has been fixed now). Most people aren’t that patient.

forumNewspapers’ sales are losing ground to other services that are free and widely available. This means that much more time and emphasis have been placed on newspaper marketing ideas. What we forget is where all of the newspaper customers originated from. Their rock solid demographic has changed dramatically. I can’t remember the last time I looked a phone number up in a phone book, and the same goes with newspapers. We rely on the Internet for all our information.

Newspapers once had the ability to call each and every one of the residents in their town through Newspaper Telemarketing. But as more and more people ditch their landlines for unlisted cell phone numbers, this has made it even more difficult for newspapers to reach the younger demographic.

I can think of a few ideas that would help newspapers to be able to compete and continue in the coming century:

Charge much more for printed copies of the paper.

Let’s face it. Newspapers have extremely high overhead with paper, gas, electricity to print, a big building and distribution centers to heat/cool. I would charge appropriately for the honor of having a printed version of the paper. As people quit paying the higher prices for the printed version, scale back the overhead to match.

Capitalize on the brand of the newspaper by focusing on local/regional news only.

The best thing newspapers have going for them is their local brand and recognition. They should leverage that by only providing local, relevant news that people in the surrounding area will highly appreciate. Local and hyperlocal blogs have been springing up in every town across the country for the simple fact that people love their local sports, travel, news, dining, nightlife and the like.

Why waste time with national or even regional news at all? Make the paper completely local with news no one else offers. Ditch the world news section.

Imagine the savings each paper would have by not paying the Associated Press and other sources for the use of articles from outside the area. I believe The Forum pays roughly 2-3 million a year for the honor of republishing AP articles in its daily newspaper. How many jobs and overhead could be eliminated by focusing on local news only?

People have the Internet and TV/Satellite for national and world news. It’s a fallacy that local newspapers have to republish national and world news. I can’t recall a national article I read in The Forum that I had not already heard two days before on Twitter and the day before on Drudge Report.

Open up the classified section

Make the classified section of your website open and free to the public like craigslist.com. Your newspaper already has the traffic and trust and most newspapers are in smaller towns and communities that don’t yet have a functioning Craigslist page. Right now, people in small towns have to look to the nearest mid to large city if they want to use Craigslist.

Allow people to post for free for x number of days and then charge them to post for longer periods of time or with featured preference like ebay.com listings. This way people with a coffee table can get rid of their goods and those who want more permanent exposure can have it at a cost. Locals and outsiders will use your brand to facilitate their transactions and bring traffic, recommendations and so on.

Open up contributions

People love to be heard and share their ideas with the world. Give them the ability to do so. Employ an editor to read over submitted pieces and publish them to the rest of the community. This will add more content to be searched by more people to increase overall exposure, relationships, drama and just about everything else you can name.

This process can be made easy by auto filters for submitted articles. Filter for correct content type, foul language, formatting and so on. Article submission sites use this software all the time to ensure a uniform format to articles and content being submitted. Then once the articles pass auto checking, a person reviews and either approves/rejects for correction.

This process allows for a community to have hundreds or thousands of extra articles written for their site every year. Meanwhile, you collect revenue from the ad placements, gain extra traffic, links, etc.

Employ successful local content producers

One of the smartest things AOL has done in the last couple years was to buy up and enable further already successful blog sites. It simply looked at sites that were already successful and poured in resources to help expand those sites’ growth and revenue. This can and should be done on a local level.

There are bloggers in the area of every newspaper who are operating a successful blog about any subject you can imagine. Pay these bloggers to do what they do under your umbrella. You gain their readers support, interaction, favor and can possibly send them much more traffic, increasing their/your revenue, traffic and the circle continues.

Pick up the top 10 bloggers and their sites in the area along with their readers and now your local papers is attracting attention from all over the world. Here is where local pays on the world stage.

Triple the opinion section

Another newspaper marketing idea would be to expand the treasure trove of free content and participation known as the opinion section. People love to voice their opinions, and people like to hear others complain. Why not publish every letter to the editor and every editorial that comes in rather than picking and choosing? There’s nothing unique to a community quite like the opinion section of its newspaper.

Newspaper marketing

Newspaper circulation has been in decline for the past two decades, and signs for the future are not looking good. In order to increase newspaper circulation, more emphasis should be placed on marketing. Newspaper marketing jobs might be the only newspaper jobs available! Still, other newspapers outsource their marketing to a newspaper marketing agency. Either way, newspapers need to make big changes.

Conclusion

Eyeballs matter. Get the eyeballs and you’ll have newspaper advertising dollars. Newspapers used to be the only source of news for an area, but that has changed. Newspaper sales show how much the industry has changed.

Newspapers now have to fight for their readers now against everyone nationally, locally and worldwide. Focus on what you know best – your local community – and you can’t go wrong. When you have a solid base, expand into other areas. Tap the local talent because those are the people who matter the most to you. Can your newspaper compete against Drudge Report for world/national news online? No, so compete where you can win and focus all your energy there.

It would serve newspapers wisely move to a method of advertising control and brokering verses relying solely on subscribers. If newspapers combined marketing magazines, billboards, and local niche website such as blogs all the way through mega sites like Facebook. They would better serve their advertising base, by increasing exposure and managing advertising dollars across all local platforms.

Journalism isn’t dead. Journalism has more opportunities than ever before, but the energy has to be focused where it can make the most impact. That’s survival!

*top image from http://andygreenhaw.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/newspapers1.jpg