I have viewed more changes in the newspaper industry in my twelve years serving as a Hometown Publisher than changes taking place in hundreds of prior years combined. There has never been more modifications in the newspaper realm since the invention of the print press as newspapers have battled through technological changes and very difficult financial times. Many newspapers, most much larger than our operation, have either had to go solely online to save printing and distribution costs, cut printing days all together, or they have ceased operation, something that has had a horrific impact their communities.
I recently mentioned to those helping brain storm through issues facing our small Hometown Papers that “I believe those unwilling to be flexible in our industry are doomed. Those who listen and think outside the box and listen to the wants / needs of their readership very well may be able to continue providing essential community news for another century to come.” Our operation through numerous names and newspaper purchases has continued since the 1870’s, something I am very proud of.
THE ISSUE AT HAND
Our main problem with publication of “The Wauseon Reporter” and even “The Village Reporter” has certainly not revolved around circulation. Our newspaper distribution numbers have been very strong compared to other area newspapers, though more heavily online than in print recently, a sign that folks love our style of providing Hometown News. I cannot tell you how thrilled I have been with our communities in this regard, especially when sitting in conferences hearing about circulation issues other papers have had and knowing how blessed we are for our community support.
Our main issue revolves around the price to print and mail newspapers vs. our needs to maintain our employees and pay for our office expenses.
During the summer months our newspaper page count obviously shrinks as school news dictates a large percentage of our week to week news coverage. Even with our smaller page count it has cost on average in the $1.40ish range to print and mail each issue in June, July & August, when we sell our papers in the 80 – 90 cent range depending on if our readers subscribe or purchase a copy locally at a counter sale location (the store receives a sales percentage). Obviously we are set to see our prices increase by up to 20-30 cents now school news has been implemented again. I think early Elementary mathematic understanding indicates that unless you are the government that can print its own money, this formula does not work. Our weekly “loss” will certainly increase as we increase our page count with school activities back in full swing.
Each week we have to sell print advertisement to offset our losses to sell newspapers. This is before covering the monthly costs of our building, 300+ hour of payroll time per week to product and deliver our newspapers, etc. etc. If advertisement revenues are low in this week’s edition, then I have to cut coverage the following week which just about kills me as we would love to cover 100% of the newsworthy articles taking place in our communities.
To cover these expenses we need 33-50% of every page covered with display print advertisement from businesses, something that simply has not happened.
This need was shared with those encouraging us to start a newspaper in Wauseon several years ago (we started “The Wauseon Reporter” while other newspapers around the country were closing their doors). Those business owners and community leaders wanting us to start a newspaper in Wauseon and helping us plan the new venture indicated that it should not be an issue to cover our expenses via print advertisement because of the large business volume in the greater Wauseon area. I shared the mindset at the time that I have viewed first hand communities desire and encourage businesses to come to one of our towns to fill a need, then once the business opens their doors after years of preparation and town encouragement, the community didn’t support them and they closed, bankrupting those business owners. I wanted to avoid a similar situation if we started a newspaper in town, as we actually faced a similar issue in a village that asked us to expand to their area in 2008 already.
Fast forward to our current circumstances. Despite receiving praise from our Wauseon area advertisers on the affordable prices of marketing with us (shared with us in private and in public business meetings), our advertisement revenue for “The Wauseon Reporter” has been a fraction of “The Village Reporter” which honestly has not made sense since the business district in Wauseon is so much larger than the smaller communities we serve in “The Village Reporter”.
This issue is not unique to us as two former Wauseon publications actually folded because of the same problem. Readership support = great. Advertisement revenue that pays all the bills = not so much.
Essentially we have been faced with not covering our printing mailing costs, then completely eating payroll and office expenses. The fact we are a fairly young middle class family owning and operating your newspapers, unlike many corporate owned papers, we have placed our lives and personal finances into this venture. There is no “back up” corporate monies and we have never been offered a government bailout (column for another time).
Now please hear me clearly. While we have had this struggle covering our expenses in the Wauseon area, we have had numerous community leaders and advertisers step up and be a wonderful support. This column is not designed to bash or tear down anybody or any town. I am simply being transparent with the communities we serve. Again, we have had this issue with other towns we cover. The issue in Wauseon is simply unique in that we gave the city its own unique paper vs. expanding to other towns in “The Village Reporter” (a unique newspaper was not given to those towns).
We are VERY thankful for all our Wauseon advertisers and have come to love the community, as do many of our Wauseon staff members and advisor members.
No doubt anytime I publish a column, I get hate mail as folks did not understand the purpose of my column. Again, Wauseon is not the first town that wanted our format of Hometown News coverage, only to find ourselves in this position due to lack of advertisement revenues. Our issues with not covering our needed 101 expenses may very well be the fault of the guy I shave with in the mornings, it may be the economy, it may be a combination of things. The goal is to move forward in a positive direction from this point.
I won’t go into a lot of details, but I can tell you that I generally am not quitter. Simply put, our options were to close “The Wauseon Reporter”, go only online with the newspaper to save printing / mailing expenses, increase our prices to $1.50-$2.00, or merge the paper with our neighboring newspaper that already covers some Fulton County news.
Since a lot of news we published between our newspapers was being printed twice each week already (especially Wauseon sports – when the Indians play Edon, Montpelier, North Central, Hilltop, Stryker, Fayette and/or Pettisville), we have decided to now cover Wauseon news in “The Village Reporter” and discontinue “The Wauseon Reporter”. This will allow us to not only maintain the level of news coverage we have been publishing each week in both papers, we will actually be able to cover additional news since our printing and mailing expenses will lower and we can shift these monies into more news coverage.
I did some surveying about six weeks back and our Wauseon readers overwhelming stated they would support the expansion of “The Wauseon Reporter” into other area communities. To summarize most of these comments, “we love Wauseon news but we have family and/or interest in our other area towns”.
Taking this mindset into consideration and knowing that merging Wauseon news with other area Northwest Ohio towns would be warmly received (mostly), this option seems to be the best.
What about the communities we already serve in “The Village Reporter”?
Organization. Within a few weeks, each town we serve should have 1-3 unique pages of Hometown Coverage specific to their towns. “Common pages” such as the front page, obituary page, police reports page, church pages and classified pages will remain shared. We hope organizing news in our print product will allow readers to quickly find the news they care about the most, while giving our “front to back page” readers more news than ever to enjoy.
ANY CHANGES TO THOSEADVERTISING WITH US?
I believe this move will make our advertisers HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY. No price increase and a significant increase in exposure will occur as most of Williams County, a good chunk of Fulton County and of course our strong circulation in bordering towns and counties will now view your advertisement!
The only comparison I can make is if you sat down at a restaurant and ordered an entree and received a second entree for free. The merger of our efforts into a concentrated product will add thousands of additional eyes to your business advertisement, after coverage, my biggest interest.
WE DO NOT HAVE EVERYTHING FIGURED OUT
Yup, true, gonna be honest and transparent in this aspect. It is going to take us several weeks to smooth this transition; maybe longer. Please be patient with us, this first edition has been a challenge.
For the small percentage of readers that may not like this move, I ask that you understand. When I grab a cup of coffee at a gas station and look down at a chocolate bar for $1.39 (watch folks in front of me grab handfuls of these sinful delights) and I know we put 300+ hours into producing our papers each week for $1.00, I believe we offer the best deal around. Our team cares for our communities as a whole and we are doing all we can to publish Hometown News at an affordable cost.
We still have folks upset about the merger of the Stryker Advance and the West Unity Reporter in 1976 (37 years later). I hope we are not met with this kind of perspective. We considered a price increase of our newspaper rate, but feel that $1+ for our newspaper would be met with a lot of resistance.
While this week’s print product has merged, it will take us a bit longer to merge our facebook pages and website pages.
A former publisher of another paper told me recently in the midst of his retirement that his old newspaper and our papers would not be around in a few years. I disagree whole heartily and believe all we need to do is make sound financial decisions and our papers can be stronger than ever (as can most businesses and/or families trying to survive financially – Dave Ramsey concept).
With a tremendous amount of respect, I disagree with the mindset I have noticed coming out of a lot of newspaper publishers who refuse to change their operating environment to allow success for their newspapers and ultimately bettering their communities through community news exposure. Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am right … time will tell.
Without trying to sound overly spiritual, I believe if you prayerfully make your decisions and give 110% then you can do no more in life or in your profession. We are at that point and look forward to a bright future bringing forth your Hometown News.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.