October 27, 2009

Oakland Press plays it right; picks up circulation from Detroit, Flint

OK, no polish 'cause I am busy, busy, busy trying to translate some reports into one easy-to-read report and I have a deadline. But I can't ignore this:

The Oakland Press took advantage of moves by its  competitors and ended up with more paying customers. In fact, its circulation gains of about 7% pushed the Michigan newspaper into an unusual spot: the third highest increase of all U.S. newspapers with a paid circulation of more than 50,000.

Now, I do find it rather odd that the Oakland Press has an AP story about that achievement. But, maybe that's another indication of its focus on not trying to be everything to everybody.

The Oakland Press continued delivering its newspapers seven days a week in its home market while the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News to the east and the Flint Journal to its north dropped home delivery to three days a week. Other changes in the market included elimination of some weekly newspapers by the Observer-Eccentric company and the replacement of the Ann Arbor News with annarbor.com

The gains came as the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported Monday that average daily circulation dropped 10.6 percent in the April-September period from the same six-month span in 2008.

The gains came after the Oakland Press cut its staff by 20%, started a citizens journalism program and relied on more free-lancers and bloggers to help cover the community.

But, it was the continued daily newspaper delivery that is making a difference - if I had more time, I'd track down a few folks who shared on Facebook last week how they've started liking what's in the Oakland Press enough to drop their long-time subscriptions to the Detroit newspapers. (Yeah, I know it's public if it is out on Facebook but I usually get permission first so ....)

I'd run across that while working on a post on the two executives from the Detroit Media Publication talking  about "What every newspaper can learn from Detroit's bold experiment" at the recent Southern Newspaper Publishers Association News Industry Summit. Paul Anger, editor and publisher of The Detroit Free Press, and Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of the Detroit News shared how the new model was developed and how it was impacting business. Now remember, this was a group of publishers so revenue was the focus and ideas included getting more of it from selling content, more print ads on  Mondays-Wednesdays and Saturdays and increasing online reenue. Oh yea, save costs. More later, perhaps.
    Meanwhile, back to the Oakland Press....

    Joe Strupp of the Editor and Publisher wrote:
    The Oakland (Mich.) Press, which saw a 7.26% increase to 68,067 daily from 63,458, attributed much of the upswing to former readers of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.

    "We aggressively pursued the business we knew would be available in Detroit," said Circulation Director John Lazzeri. "We put together a marketing campaign and threw all of our ammunition at the opportunity and as a result got a nice increase."
    The company, whose parent company recently came out of bankruptcy, doubled the number of places where you can buy a copy of newspaper and emphasized its daily home delivery to those in its base county.

    Crain's Detroit Business also reported that the Macomb Daily is benefiting from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News decision to limit the number of days the newspapers are delivered  and increase its single-copy price.

    By the way, the Detroit newspapers are giving themselves more time to call its new model successful, according to several published reports. Although originally the goal was to have a positive cash flow by the end of this year, the new goal is by the end of 2010.

    Also, look for more reliance on readers to help finance the operations. Traditionally, newspaper revenue has been more reliant on advertising then circulation. But advertising is hard to come by in Michigan, still hit hard with the rippling effect of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford's economic woes.

    Some of that comes from Poynter Institute's Bill Mitchell who interviewed a number of Detroit Media Partnership execs to pull together numbers and explanations last week.    Numbers like readers will provide 40 percent of the news organization's revenue by Jan. 1, 2011 came from the former Detroit Free Press reporter (1972-92) Bill Mitchell.  

    A comment on his post led me to Post Advertising, a blog those explores what replaces the dead model of traditional advertising. Plus, Mitchell does a followup piece on the idea of readers providing more of the revenue.

    OK, back to this circulation piece again.

    On March 30, The Detroit Free Press and News went to home delivery for Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. On June 1, The Flint Journal, Bay City Times and Saginaw News went to the same three days.

    The Oakland Press and Flint Journal coverage areas once lapped in southern Genesee  County and northern Oakland County. But The Journal had started pulling in resources from that area even before its decision to limit the number of publication days.
    Editor and Publisher was told that the Oakland Press put out about 700,000 pieces to "let people know they have a choice."
    "No surprises," he added. "We saw it as an opportunity and took every advantage of it. We expected it to happen. There was no magic, just hard work and aggressive campaigning."


    1. The Oakland Press certainly knows its limitations, as alluded to in this post. Its name has long been a misnomer because it hardly covers, maybe, 40% of Oakland County. The paper should've been named the Pontiac Press or Pontiac-Waterford Press. It's just not, nor ever has been, a good paper. Most journalists know it for its history of quirky and over-their-heads publishers and editors. My point is the paper has done nothing, except continue to publish a daily paper, to merit praise of any kind or increased subcriptions. Their competition to the north and south simply imploded, because -- like GM and Chrysler -- they failed to adapt soon enough to a perfect storm of changing conditions and an economic train wreck. The Oakland Press' ability to publish daily, for now, has everything to do with its coverage area in still fairly well-to-do Oakland County (comparatively) and almost nothing to do with quality of product. But should the recession in Michigan continue for another year or two, we'll see if the paper is still around to publish at all -- let alone for three days a week. A key here, as the post mentioned, is a company shaken by a recent bankruptcy. I doubt Chrysler will be here two years from now, unless it receives still more help from Obama. So I seriously question the Press' odds for longterm success. Like the nearby Spinal Column -- more phone book than tight newspaper -- the Press could afford to be, er, quirky in the affluent past. Now, it should be focused on its very survival. Yes, the paper just saw a circulation increase, but I doubt they can continue to count on such increases long-term.

    2. The Midland Daily News has hired at least two reporters to extend their coverage into the Bay City Times / Saginaw News market. From the sound of it, they're doing well by making this move.

    3. Spinal Column? What a silly, stupid name. I don't care how they came up with it!

    4. Hi Mary Ann,
      Good post, interesting reading.
      Came by to say hello and wish you a good Halloween weekend.

    5. You have such a knack for picking the right days to say something.