Balancing the economics and emotion of cutting back print

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What happens when you cut back print publishing days is complex, an INMA study has found.

It's all about managing the sliding scale economics of print and executing the emotional balancing act of reducing print days, it says.

'The Economics and Emotion of Reducing Print Days' focusses largely on the US news industry's evolution from seven-day publishing to one to three-days-a-week publishing - accelerated by advertising's decline during the COVID-19 crisis.

Using case studies from Advance Local, the Tampa Bay Times, Salt Lake Tribune, and Berlin-based Die Tageszeitung (literally The Daily Newspaper) in Germany, it explores how news organisations moved beyond "intense scepticism" about reducing print days to create viable digital models that require a consumer embrace of platform-agnostic subscriptions, e-replicas, iPads, print subscriber digital activations, and other print-digital bridges.

Reducing print days also requires a robust digital strategy.

Author Dawn McMullan found that the keys to making print day reductions work include:

Mission: To be successful, this must be about more than saving money. This must be a transformational pivot toward digital subscriptions and revenue.

Data: Predictive models can tell publishers what the "sweet spot" is where the number of days cut meets the best revenue model.

Communication: Media company employees, readers, advertisers, and the community at large need time to adapt. Many communications in advance of the change will be needed. Publishers should even consider a gradual approach to implementation. The emotion of reducing print days is real and can be an unintended proxy - internal and external to the media company.

"Shutting down print is not a casual decision as the platform is so intimately intertwined with journalism and the news brand," she says.

The INMA report looks at the math and the assumptions behind reducing print days, and is punctuated by expert commentary. The report suggests that US print newspapers have evolved from primary carriers of news, features, and advertising to a sometimes secondary, necessary, and effective carrier of advertising where there is demand.

"Experts suggest this trajectory is happening internationally, yet more slowly than in the US, where the advertising pain points are more acute and reduced pagination and print days have become the norm," McMullan says.

'The Economics and Emotion of Reducing Print Days' is free to INMA members with the usual provision to buy a copy for the cost of membership. Go to www.inma.org/reports for details.

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