Leave it to the newspaper industry to figure out new ways to put a pretty face on loss. In today's New York Times piece ("Why Some Big Newspapers Applaud Some Declines in Circulation") on the shrinking circ of U.S. papers, execs said that marginal circulation -- those who bought subscriptions, but didn't keep them up after a promotional period -- were just too damned costly. Slimming down, taking on fewer of them, and letting circ fall to its "natural levels" seems to be the prevailing creed today.
Well, fair enough that newspapers overspent selling the same customers over and over again -- at an average acquisition cost that's now reached $68, according to the piece by Richard Perez-Pena. Spending too much to acquire customers is never a good idea.
But the whole idea that circ is falling to its natural level seems to be the Kool-Aid of 2007. News break: There is no natural level. Even newspapers' most loyal customers hear the siren call of Media Choice, and that means continuing competition for readers.
Just because someone won't take the pledge to read the paper religiously doesn't mean they're not a good customer. Let's recall that the big boom business of the moment -- Internet advertising -- is built on capturing episodic readers. All customers, whether occasional, or daily or hourly visitors to Yahoo, Google and MSN are good. All need to be welcomed.
I think that what's really going on is that daily newspapers -- the great mass medium of the last century -- are now becoming niche. Newspapers would deny that (witness NAA's marketing programs emphasizing total (print + online) reach and have of course built their ad selling machines on the basis of mass. The great mass new markets of this century (so far) are online, with the big news aggregators all displaying the same characteristics newspapers used to have -- audiences of all age groups, both genders, across income levels.
In-print newspapers, on the other hand, are becoming niche. Average readership age is 56, and the readers have more money than the your average Yahoo News reader. That's good news if you're selling niche, even as it raises long-term questions of survival and prosperity.