Sampling news styles with the daily grind

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When news comes daily of retailers no longer stocking newspapers, how to readers 'sample' news... and identify themselves as readers.

Usually the argument is that falling sales don't justify the space taken.

The reasoning behind UK retailer WH Smith cutting stocks of the Telegraph there - a dispute over margins - is different, but the effect is the same.

Writing on the subject, Twipe's Mary-Katharine Phillips mentions UK supermarket Aldi and US Starbucks coffee shops no longer selling copies, while Air New Zealand has removed print newspapers from its lounges for "sustainability" reasons.

Habits have changed since the city of New York tried to get rid of newsstands as part of an effort to clean up the city at the turn of the last century, challenging a daily habit for those who "cannot eat their breakfast without a newspaper", as Newsdealers' Association president William Merican put it.

"The consumer behaviour of reading the newspaper with the morning coffee hasn't gone away, it has just evolved with the state of technology, says Phillips.

That was part of the logic for Starbucks offering the alternative of a free digital newspaper subscription in some stores. With the programme now partnering 23 newspaper titles - including the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times - Starbucks patrons can bypass the paywall when connected to in-store wifi.

Mary-Katharine Phillips says the issue of 'discovery' for prospective readers may need to be reconsidered: "Before committing to paying for a subscription, print readers could first scan through the various different newspapers available at the newsstand and even trial a title by buying a single copy.

"With newsstands disappearing, it is another sign that publishers need to rethink their discovery strategies."

She says that with the state of digital discovery in flux, publishers know that they cannot become too reliant on platforms. "Instead, to be successful, publishers need to ensure they build their audiences on their own platforms so they can actually be in control of those relationships.

"That's one reason why the participating publishers have given free access to the content to Starbucks customers. While Starbucks isn't paying the publishers, they see it as a good source of potential new readers. With this program, new readers can really get to know what value a digital subscription would bring, before deciding to subscribe."

She's also curious to see how people will telegraph their news interests, if not by buying a copy of their preferred newspapers at the kiosk, perhaps with a tote bag such as that espoused by New Yorker readers. Apparently more than 500,000 of the 2017 'it bag' have been distributed.

With the need to close editions or cut the number of publication days, e-editions - once seen as a cannibalisation threat for print newspapers - are being identified as a way to extend the lifetime of a print reader. "Publishers will need to think about how they can encourage occasional readers to buy a single digital copy of the newspaper when they want to read the full edition," says Phillips. "Today, many publishers still view their ePaper as something only for subscribers, meaning that occasional readers do not have the ability to discover what the ePaper is all about. Overall, publishers will do best if they can encourage their occasional readers to further sample their product."

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