The Star's numbers...going down

Dateline: Wed 05 Aug 2015

Karen Ferguson Fuson, publisher of the Indianapolis Star, as well as other Gannett products, is to be credited for her transperency with staff re: the continual struggle to not lose more readers/subscribers.

The Star, like other newspapers, targets three audiences: old-school delivery subscriptions; desktop readers; and mobile app readers.

It's no news flash that print readers are bailing, but the numbers are shocking.

Ferguson Fuson sends out a "Happy Monday!" email to staff each week. It's mostly in-house rah-rah stuff, but at the end is where the action is. The heading is: "Below are our weekly indicators that show our performance against key leading indicators of our business."

For the week of May 11, Ferguson's (not yet Fuson) email noted "PERMANENT STOPS: 1,805. (Stops were above budget by 2.8 percent toward the 2015 stop goal of 64,000."

For the week of May 18, Ferguson noted, "PERMANENT STOPS: 919 (Stops were below budget by 5.3 percent towrd the 2015 stop goal of 64,000."

June 22's email records, "PERMANENT STOPS: 1,023 (Stops were above budget by 8 percent toward the 2015 stop goal of 64,000)."

Assuming we are reading this correctly -- and I am getting assistance -- this means that on the weeks cited, the Star lost 1,805 readers/subscribers in one week, 919 another, and 1,023 in another. Permanent stops has always meant just as it sounds: a subscriber calls the paper and tells them to stop delivery. Permanently.

It also appears the Star is projecting a total loss of 64,000 readers in 2015. That is an amazing hemorrhage. 

Now, whether some of those readers will be drawn back with various offers is open to question, but it seems doubtful. The newspaper habit is not one the majority of Americans have any longer.

However, the folks at Gannett are in there pitching: one strategy is to offer a discount for readers who live in a less-than zip code; more affluent readers, based on zip code, pay more.

But it's a losing game.

A colleague speculates that, starting in 2016, the Star will produce a print newspaper for delivery three days a week. I would guess Friday, Saturday and Sunday, or Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Eventually the Star will provide a print paper only on Sunday.

Believe it.

Meanwhile, desktop views and mobile views are a mixed bag. In  the June 22 email, mobile views were 2,574,154, down 29 percent from the previous week. 

However, mobile views spiked a bit to 3,030,230 for the week of May 18, a gain of 12 percent with overall gain of 45 perdent yoy (year over year), which is positive.

Desktop views seem to be similiarly jumpy -- up one week by 14 percent, down earlier by 13 percent.

We all know the future is online. The question is: can Gannett figure out how to draw and maintain those readers?

The issue, again, is that the paper no longer has a big enough staff (or committed editors) to feed the monster. The web page should be continuously updated, especially during the hours of 7-10 p.m. when mobile usage is at its peak.

But when Gannett chooses to produce a newspaper with a skeleton staff, it's hard to get fresh stories and updates.

Spiral mindf--k. 





Philip L Fowler [unverified] said:

For me as a former honor carrier for the Star (back in 1971), it's been a sad spectacle watching "my" paper gradually morph from a respectable news instrument into an overpriced leftist-leaning ad sheet that could be best described as something like a merger between the National Enquirer and The Socialist Workers Daily. It no longer has any relevance. The Indianapolis Star is dead. It just hasn't been buried yet.

2015-08-05 11:45:22

Lawrence MacIntyre [unverified] said:

As a local online news outlet, the Star is competing with five TV stations, the IBJ and a bunch of bloggers. The TVs do weather, crime and sports better than the Star. The IBJ And the bloggers do local politics, government and business better than the Star. It's no surprise that the Star's readers are abandoning it. The Gannett business model of lousy news reporting mixed with tons of ads and stuffers does not work in the Internet era.

2015-08-05 13:02:48

Holly Price [unverified] said:

After years of watching the quality of the paper decline, I reluctantly cancelled my subscription in late May. I have since then received AT LEAST 10 phone calls a week from the Star. After the first call (and a very unprofessional voicemail), I programmed the number into my phone and ignore every call. They continue to call day after day but never leave an intelligible voicemail--most times it's the operator saying my name repeatedly like they think I answered the phone and then eventually hanging up. Sad (and annoying).

2015-08-05 13:18:03

john bansch [unverified] said:

ruth, any numbers on far circulation has dropped? I heard daily is around 94,000.

2015-08-05 13:38:48

Jennifer Gombach [unverified] said:

If they go to the three-day model, it will be interesting to see how they deal with Monday post-game Colts coverage. It's a challenge we were talking about five years ago, and the best option at the time was a single-copy special section. Can't even begin to image how reduced pub days will impact ad rates and revenue. My local paper has shifted to USPS delivery, and I'm not liking it, and I'm guessing it's resulting in subscriber losses. We said all along that eventually newspaper newsrooms would look like TV stations' - it just may happen sooner than later.

2015-08-06 12:03:08

hendy [Member] said:

Amusingly, the NYT just hit 1M online subs.

But if you go just an hour drive south, the Herald Times thrives. Nice if tawdry online community-- saturated with proctological orifices and armchair experts-- the usual suspects.

Almost every non-Gannett market within five hrs drive has a thriving newspaper.

Yeah, 3x/wk. Serves them right. What total and complete turkeys.

2015-08-07 17:17:26

Al Kowalczyk [unverified] said:

Ruth, these numbers from the Star shouldn't surprise anyone (not even Ms. Ferguson Fuson). There's more to it than just the fact that print media is dying in this country. My wife has subscribed to the Sunday Star, but only to get the coupons (which pays for the subscription). Otherwise, let's admit it, the newspaper's reporting is horrendous. Notwithstanding the polarization of the this country's citizens, there are still many of us out there who would like some in-depth, unbiased reporting from our news sources. You don't get that with the Star. I'm not going to set out, here, which way I think the Star and its staff leans; too many people, I think, already know this. But it's this kind of biased reporting (and the constant Sports, Sports, Sports coverage) that is driving so many readers away. If Ms. Ferguson Fuson can't see this, well, perhaps it's time she move on. Regardless, the Star will probably not change the point of view from which it sees issues. So it will continue to bleed readers until it, like so many other newspapers, is dead.

2015-08-12 08:12:54

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