Most Major U.S. Newspaper Chains Now Have E-Mail Publishing Operations

Congratulations for the Gannett corporate staff for selecting — after more than three years of deliberations— an e-mail publishing vendor for USA Today and for all Gannett newspapers and TV stations in North America.

Gannett’s ‘quick’ selection is significant for two reasons:

First, it means that now almost all major U.S. newspaper chains have finally begun e-mail publishing operations. Gannett is the largest U.S. chain and the last to do so. Knight Ridder, Advance Publications, Tribune, New York Times, Post-Newsweek, Media News Group, and Media General already have such operations underway. This leaves Hearst and Cox as the only chains among the top 20 not to have started concerted e-mail publishing operations vendor, although a few of their newspaper sites have individually done so.

The early adopters (and I use that term relatively here) of e-mail publishing are doing indeed quite well with it:

  • Executives of the New York Times Digital’s flagship site, which truly was an early convert (1997) to e-mail publishing, have called it “one of their greatest success stories,” a revenue-generator, and a program that that also “nowadays generates approximately half of’s daily pageviews.”
  • Tribune Interactive’s executives similarly have said, “Clearly it is the most successful area of Internet advertising. We needed to get into the game with a serious program.” They say that Tribune Interactive is now achieving high advertising rates with it.
  • Executives of Belo Interactive, which ranks perhaps 11th among the 10 largest U.S. newspaper chains, have said they’ve charging on average between $175 to $350 CPM rates for ad on their newspapers’ e-mails and that, “It’s not uncommon for us to send an e-mail with a $400 CPM.” Those CPMs are a magnitude higher than most newspaper sites’ banner rates.

    Second, Gannett’s ‘quick’ decision was typical of most other newspaper chains, which have come to e-mail publishing late or else without much effort at generating revenues.. At the roots of this are two unfortunate characteristics of most online newspapers: minickry and department factionalism.

  • Most newspapers’ Web sites are run by Editorial department staff or alumni, who run e-mail publishing primarily as a way of disseminating news, without much concern using it for advertising. That’s a remarkable waste when you consider that e-mail publishing has otherwise proven to be the most successful means of Internet advertising.
  • Meanwhile, most newspaper advertising staffs that do use e-mail publishing unfortunately mimic the often shady ways that direct marketers use it, ways that can make journalists cringe. I know about many newspaper ad staff that, despite their sites’ e-mail publishing programs proclaiming to be ‘opt-in’, have bought lists of e-mail addresses from brokers or simply import their advertisers’ lists, then began to send unsolicited advertising e-mails to tens of thousands of unwilling recipients. There are no better ways to get newspapers listed as offenders on anti-spam ‘black hole’ list. (I know of case this year at one of the ten largest U.S. newspapers in which the online ad department began doing those things despite vociferous objections from the site’s vice president of new media, who eventually resigned in protest.)

    Most Editorial and Advertising departments’ staffs who run U.S. newspaper Web sites have no clue what their newspapers’ Circulation staff do. Let me now enlighten them: Circulation staff make sure that more people read an edition each and every day. According to the Newspaper Association of America, 84 percent of print circulation of the average U.S. newspaper comes from direct daily delivery to homes and offices. Only some 16 percent comes from consumers remembering, and taking time, to visit sites where they can access a printed copy, despite those sites being all over town.

    If U.S. newspapers depended upon consumers remembering, and taking time, to access a printed copy daily, most of the average newspaper’s circulation would evaporate. Yet the Editorial and Advertising deparments’ staff or alumni who nowadays shovel printed content online have built their business model on that basis.

    Look at the results: the average users of a U.S. newspaper Web site visits it less than five times per month. By the way, what percentage is five days in a 31-day month? Sixteen percent. By relying solely upon consumers remembering, and taking time, to visit their newspapers’ Web sites, rather than directly delivering content daily to those online consumers, the Editorial and Advertising deparments’ staff and alumni who run those sites have achieved the same results they would have with newsprint editions if they didn’t directly deliver daily. Consumer behavior is similar on-line as off-line.

    Newspapers (and magazines and broadcasters, anyone who publishes periodically) need e-mail publishing for direct daily delivery of their online content. Moreover, periodicals need to learn much more about how to use e-mail publishing successfully. Most online periodicals are five years behind the advertising & marketing industry in general on that topic.

    I applaud the Newspaper Association of America for holding on a Webinar next week about that subject. Or for IFRA teaching a bit about it next week at IFRAexpo.

    However, newspapers won’t really learn all that much about e-mail publishing at NAA, IFRA, or Editor & Publisher magazine events. At those events, they’ll learn only what other newspapers have done. Yet, those newspapers that are doing it learned it from studying how the the advertising & marketing industry in general has used e-mail publishing — an industry that, as I said, is years ahead of the newspaper industry at this. That’s where periodical publishers need to be with these technologies: ahead of competitors, not behind.

    Newspapers need to attend E-Mail marketing conferences (such as the Direct Marketing Assocation’s Comprehensive E-mail Marketing Strategies conference next month or Jupitermedia’s E-Mail Strategies Conferences in the springtime), where they can learn from the national & local advertising professionals how legitimate (non-spam, double opt-in) e-mail marketing a billion dollar annual industry in the U.S.

    [Disclaimer: I’ve been attending those DMA and Jupitermedia events for years; been a speaker at Jupitermedia E-Mail Strategies conferences; taught the Masters Classes in e-mail publishing at the Content Summits in Zürich during the late 1990s; and was the opening keynote speaker at De Eerste Nationale Email Marketing Conferentie in Amsterdam during 2002. I’ll be publishing a research report later this year about the world’s most successful uses of e-mail publishing by newspapers and magazines. So you could say that I have a vested interest in emphasizing the importance of e-mail publishing for periodical publishing. Nevertheless, the points I’ve made above stand by themselves, despite any vested interest.]