Fewer subscribers, more readers

The following appeared in a blog post from Keith Clark, editor of the E-Lee Dispatch:

Some unwelcome but sound advice: don’t keep insulting your dwindling subscribers. (evidence available). (Click quote for full post)

The post was in reference to an editorial where we suggested the Lee County Board of Education should give the public a head’s up even when they’re meeting socially, as they failed to do when a quorum was present at a recent party — which is totally legal and ethical. Keith suggests we’re picking on Board Chairman Bill Tatum and giving lip service to the state’s Sunshine Laws.
Whatever. He’s entitled to his blog and his opinions.

But I want to use my space here to argue the “dwindling subscribers” issue.
Yes, The Herald has fewer subscribers than it did five years ago. It has fewer subscribers than it did one year ago.
We’re also a better paper than we were five years ago. We’re a better paper than we were one year ago.

This isn’t an issue unique to The Herald. An article on Examiner.com reveals:
The Audit Bureau of Circulations report shows that weekday circulation at U.S. daily publications fell an average of 8.7 percent year-over-year for the six-month period ending March 2010. Sunday-only circulation was reported to have dropped 6.5 percent. The decline in circulation is the result of a struggling economy as well as a wide spread change in the way that people choose to receive their news. Online news providers are increasingly the preferred sources of information for the wired generation.

Clark suggests The Herald’s “bias” is causing it to lose subscribers. If that’s the case, wouldn’t you think we’d be losing online readers as well?
It turns out, if you include our total circulation and the number of online readers sanfordherald.com has on a daily basis, then you could accurately determine that more people are reading The Herald today than at any point during its peak in circulation (roughly the 1980s).
According to site figures from Google Analytics, The Herald averaged 2,085 site visits during the month of June (typically a down month because of summer and vacations). On our best day (June 24), we had more than 3,000 visits. On our worst (June 19 .. a Saturday), we had more than 1,300.
Our best day this year was May 25 … we had nearly 5,000 unique site visits and nearly 15,000 page views that day.
In other words, the readers are there … in fact, our online readership used to be higher (on average) until we implemented a “log-in” function to avoid anonymous comments, which began to litter the landscape.

Worldwide, The Herald ranks around 900,000 in terms of site hits, page views, etc. over the past three months, according to Alexa.com, a site that monitors such things.
Keith’s site ranks over 7 million. In fairness, my blog is even worse than that … I think it’s around the 11 millionth most visited site in the word (yikes). Then again, I don’t update it as regularly as I used to (something I hope to change).
To understand the 7 million ranking, understand that there’s a website called biggulpshuh.com that features a Big Gulp and a sound clip from the movie “Dumb and Dumber.” It ranks in the 3 million range on Alexa.com … 4 million better than the Dispatch.
Not that I put a lot of stock into the Alexa numbers. I personally think The Herald’s numbers are skewed on it (they’re different than the more accurate Google Analytics), but it gives you an idea of what kind of readership we’re talking about.

As Herald editor, it’s not my job to pay attention to our circulation (though I do). It’s my job to produce the best possible paper on a daily basis and inform the public. Not once has a subscriber called me and told me he’s canceling because we support one party over another.
Now, I’ve had cancellations over other issues and even mistakes … and I take them seriously. But 90 percent of the those who cancel us do so because either they can’t afford it anymore or they don’t see the point in paying for a product they can get for free over the Internet.
Again — this problem is not unique to us.
And again, I’ll state that more people are reading The Herald than ever before. More people are reading the N&O than ever before. More people are reading the New York Times than ever before.
They just aren’t being counted. That’s the industry’s challenge. That’s our challenge.

We’re not losing subscribers, however, because we’re picking on the school board.


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