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One weekly paper’s success:
Solid six figures on daily e-mail newsletters
By Peter M. Zollman
How’s a 15,000-circulation weekly paper in northern Alabama generating a solid
six figures a year in revenue with just two e-mail newsletters? It’s simple.
Well, no, it’s not so simple. But Shelby County Newspapers – “Local. Every day.”
has built an e-mail subscription list of 21,000 opt-in local subscribers to its two
daily e-mail newsletters, and has turned them into a highly profitable revenue
stream that would be the envy of just about every weekly newspaper we can think
of, and a lot of dailies as well. The company publishes the Shelby County Reporter,
the Alabaster Reporter and the Pelham Reporter. About half the e-mail recipients
receive the flagship Reporter’s newsletters.
Once a day, the company sends out an e-mail headline newsletter, typically by 6
a.m . And (here’s the great one), it sends out a separate e-mail newsletter at about 11
a.m . called “What’s for lunch?” highlighting specials and providing discount
coupons for local merchants.
“What’s for lunch?” brings in about half of the e-mail initiative’s incremental rev-
enue, against a sales cost of about 8 percent. The daily headline newsletter brings
in slightly less, against similar sales costs.
Tim Prince, publisher and president of Shelby County
Newspapers Inc. in Columbiana, Ala., said that at first, a little
more than a year ago, the newsletters got off to a slow start.
“When we first launched this, we did an abysmal job of selling it.
We essentially didn’t sell it. Not intentionally; it’s just that we
weren’t doing anything with them.
“Then I remembered....a person I worked for years ago told me
the most important thing at a newspaper is ‘whatever the publisher says is the most
important.’ So I made it a priority. And now everyone sells it.”
Ads are sold primarily in “consistency packages” – both online and print advertis-
ing, typically 13 weeks or more. “An advertiser can be a part of it for as low as $25
a day, which is a pretty inexpensive ride.”
The papers’ general sales staff sells the newsletter packages; there’s no separate
Internet team or interactive specialist involved. The newsletters have five or six ad
positions; the lunchtime e-mail is exclusively advertising, offering coupons, dis-
counts and information like “what’s on the buffet today.”
At first, the sales team struggled a bit with the packages, but “they get it now.
We’ve got a young, energetic sales staff, very digitally focused. ... They didn’t get
it when we launched it. Now they get it.”
About half of the newsletter advertisers are new accounts, Prince said.
The newspapers use Constant Contact, a terrific, inexpensive, idiot-proof e-mail
management software to handle the outbound e-mails. The software captures all of
opt-in e-mails, and manages things like undeliverable e-mails, reports on the num-
ber of subscribers and opt-outs, open rates, and related functionality. .
To build its list, the Reporter promotes the newsletters heavily in-paper, on its site
and in ads in places like school journals and other community publications.
Even more valuable than the profits, Prince said, is the fact that the 166-year-old
weekly newspaper is now able to reach its audience and deliver ads all the time.
“The revenue side of it is great, but particularly for someone who doesn’t publish
every day, the daily e-mail is a great way to give us a platform to deliver a daily
Peter M. Zollman is founder of the AIM Group, which offers
publishers “pay-for-performance” consulting that increases rev-
enue. The AIM Group publishes Classified Intelligence Report.
Zollman can be reached at email@example.com,
The just-completed 2009 SNA Suburban
Market Study, co-sponsored by the SNA
Foundation and conducted by the
Reynolds Journalism Institute at the
University of Missouri, shows that subur-
ban markets continue to be as desirable as
ever for newspaper advertisers.
This update to the 2006 Belden study con-
firms that suburban adults are a highly
coveted audience, with 82% having
attended college, a median household
income of $76,500 (81% higher than the
U.S. average), 39% earning more than
$100,000, and 90% home ownership with
an average length of residence of 14.5
The results show that newspaper reader-
ship is still high, with free suburban
weeklies exceeding the weekday metro
daily. Community and neighborhood news
remains the most important focus for sub-
urban adults, with 92% interested in this
content. And, suburban newspapers con-
tinue to be the number one source for
community and neighborhood news, local
youth and high school sports, local busi-
ness news, local shopping and advertising,
and local entertainment news; surpassing
metro newspapers, television, radio and
Newspaper advertisements demonstrate
continued strength, particularly as com-
pared to advertising in other media.
Newspaper ads are read by 75% of
respondents, and two of three find news-
paper advertising useful and helpful to
them or their spouse. Very importantly,
these consumers prefer to receive adver-
tising circulars in the newspaper over
direct mail by a 3-1 margin. In fact, seven
of 10 find advertising that comes in the
mail to be “junk.”
An important finding, which is identical
to the 2006 results, is that Saturday is
their primary shopping day. This is a com-
pelling fact, which both suburban week-
lies and dailies can use in attracting mid-
week advertisers looking to reach these
desirable Saturday shoppers.
In terms of online habits, two-thirds of
respondents had used the internet to find
local news in the past week; a large
increase from the 49% who did so in
2006. This shows how important it is for
suburban and community newspapers to
have strong online offerings, and good
site SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
When asked what content items and fea-
tures they would find very useful on a
community Web site, the following
responses scored 70% or higher: commu-
nity/neighborhood news (79%), local
news updates (76%), information about
local government/elections (72%), local
entertainment (72%), and a local events
calendar (71%). And, more than two-
thirds responded that they would find
deals and coupons from local businesses
to be very useful on a community Web
SNA Suburban Market Study
Study Shows Continued
Strength of Local Newspapers;
Plum Demographics of Readers
For the study, 2,615 adults were interviewed via
random digit dialing telephone surveys in 11 major
U.S. suburban markets – Baltimore, Boston,
Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Houston,
Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Seattle, and
Washington D.C . The research examined suburban
adults’ readership of various newspapers, use of
advertising information, use of online media, shop-
ping habits, and purchasing decisions.
Full study results and data slides will be available
free of charge on the SNA Web site at
There would be negative consequences
if local newspapers stopped publishing
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The local newspaper remains a
viable, compelling and important resource for suburban adults.
I would miss out on news about community
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