Save money and give more, not less
North Florida papers combine printing and add content
You're the general manager of three small newspapers in north Florida, two of them much smaller than the third. It would be easy to cut costs by closing one or both of the smaller papers, each with circulation in the hundreds, not the thousands. Just shut one or both down, give their subscribers the larger paper instead, and hope they don't resent it too much.
That's not what Monja Slater did. Slater, general manager and advertising director of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press, combined printing in such a way that readers of all three CNHI papers got something more while each community kept its own newspaper.
The Democrat publishes twice weekly serving Suwannee County, where Live Oak is the county seat. It circulates about 3,000 papers. Jasper and Mayo are located in adjoining counties and publish once a week. Jasper's circulation is about 800 and Mayo's is about 400.
The three counties are close-knit and that was the key to the printing changes that began in May. The changes are projected to save about $35,000 annually in printing costs and also reduce pagination hours, Slater said.
"Everybody knows somebody or they are kin to somebody. Many of the residents from Mayo and Jasper work in Live Oak," she said.
They also like to read surrounding counties' news, obituaries and public and legal notices. Slater combined three press runs into one by switching to common pages except for the front page and the jump page. During the single press run, the press is stopped to switch out plates for those two pages. The second Suwannee edition, which comes out Fridays, remains separate.
The three papers were already sharing some of the same stories. But each paper was being built separately and carried different ads, depending on who paid to be in what edition. Each gets much of its revenue from legal notices and public notices for their respective counties, Slater said.
"We would have had to cut a paper, and of course when you do that you take a chance on losing the legal and the public notices in that community and alienating the residents," she said.
Instead, the Democrat's pages are duplicated for the Jasper News and Mayo Free Press, but the smaller papers have their own front page news and jump pages. Obituaries, public and legal notices for the three counties run in all three papers under separate county headings. Each now has a sports section instead of running sports in its A-pages.
The result: The Jasper News and Mayo Free Press actually have more pages with all the content that went into the Democrat. They also have all the ads. Democrat readers are getting the obits, legals and public notices from the other two counties.
The reaction has been positive, especially from the readers of the smaller papers. "Now they feel like they have got more coverage, more exposure, more information. They're getting a more well-rounded product," Slater said.
Another factor that's making the change work is that advertising rates remain the same while all advertisers now run in all three papers. That way advertisers don't resent being charged to run in another paper they didn't ask to be in, Slater said.
Slater said the strategy can work in other communities if the publisher and staff know their territory and keep their advertisers and readers happy.
"My advice would be if you know your market area and your community, and you know them well enough that you think something like this will work, then it's definitely worth doing," Slater said.
"We've been able to complement and enhance the content and readership information that we're providing now because of doing this. They don't feel like they have to buy three papers to get the same thing."
For more information, reach Monja Slater at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at email@example.com.
Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.