August 25, 2014 Last Updated 12:58 pm

In a single copy world, newspaper executives appear to be deemphasizing single copy sales

The combination of declining single copy sales and the rise of online paywalls may mean fewer young readers will be picking up the newspaper reading habit

The paid subscription, whether in print or online or on tablets, appears to be where newspaper executives are concentrating their efforts. Selling single copies of publications is getting harder and harder due to the decline in the number of newsstands, city ordinances that make it harder to have newspaper boxes in high traffic areas, and the belief that paid digital subscriptions is the future.

When tracking circulation levels through audit reports, the loss of single copy sales is obvious, and dramatic. But worse, the loss is coming at a time when reading habits are changing. It is easier, in many cases, to get a copy of a paperback book delivered to your home than it is to get a single copy of a newspaper or magazine. It takes me but a few seconds and a few clicks to order a book, one that will be delivered to me the next day (or sometimes two days). But find a copy of the Chicago Tribune? That might take driving around a while.

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Newspapers push online paywalls over single copy sales

Few newspapers have been immune to the declines: The Boston Globe has lost about 62 percent of its single copy sales in the last decade; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 65 percent; the Chicago Tribune over 80 percent. Overall, the decline in single copy sales is far outpacing that of subscriptions.

This is odd when it should be easier to buy a single digital copy than ever before. Apple and other digital newsstand require a minimum price of $0.99 which is often higher than that of the price at a box, but it is more convenient. Yet single copy sales digital are minimal, with many newspaper not even offering a single issue buy as an option, opting to sell monthly subscriptions instead.

Selling single copy sales can sometimes be expensive, though in my own short tenure as a circulation director at a daily newspapers, I found it to be the best way to effect our circulation day in a day out. Subscription drives were short term, seasonal things, which driving single copy sales was an every day exercise. (I used to frustrate the drivers by constantly changing the box allocations in order to optimize sales – it worked.)

Everyone seems to have a theory about why single copy sales are falling, and how they can be improved, but own theory is that newspaper publishers are far less aggressive when it comes to promoting the paper on a day-in day-out basis. I see few local TV ads for local papers, and more sponsorships. Less hawking, and more email. Single copy sales is all about marketing, driving future readers, reminding both readers and advertisers of the importance of the local newspaper. In other words, it is hard work.

  • Keith Foutz 3 years ago

    Growing readership in all categories takes a focused, aggressive, creative, strategic long term marketing plan and yes, it’s hard work. Newspapers have continuously raised their s.c. pricing levels to have a short term positive impact upon their revenue. (fewer copies sold but at a higher rate per piece but unfortunately, those fewer copies sold continue to multiply until you experience the kind of percentage losses mentioned in this article).
    Readership, whether in the print or digital platform can still be secured, retained and newspapers can show growth but it does take a team effort from all departments to accompany the aforementioned traits.

  • Bob Bensman 3 years ago

    What if newspapers would make it possible for a consumer to order a single copy home delivered? Consumer would order via the newspaper’s website or with an app and pays a premium price. One big advantage is that the newspaper would now have the name, address, phone and e-mail address of a reader that could hopefully be converted to full days of home delivery service . In any case, the biggest asset a newspaper has is home delivery. What better way to allow a consumer to test drive your product and service? Looking forward,