There was no trumpeting of additional content, no promises of hiring additional staff with money made off the increase, nothing because Awtry and the newspaper’s corporate owner, Gannett, know they’re are fighting a losing battle. It’s a simple fact that steep price increases drive down the sale of single copies of the newspaper.
That’s troubling, because the newspaper company still relies heavily on the sale of print advertising, print subscriptions and single copy sales for revenue. Also, most readers of newspapers still consume the product in print. In terms of advertising, most newspaper also comes from print, although there’s been a steady drop in print ad revenue even as digital ad revenue increases, but not fast enough to make up for the losses.
The Citizen-Times instituted its first price increase in decades in 2008, going from 50 cents to 75 cents per issue. That was a period of steep decline of the newspaper industry. Newspapers really began seeing the results of a lack of a strategy for how to make money online. The Great Recession in the U.S. compounded those revenue losses, and Gannett and newspapers around the country began taking desperate measures. In Asheville, there were mass layoffs, more price increases and the creation of online “paywalls” to begin making readers pay for content they had, for years, received for free.
It all adds up to major losses in print circulation, as the Citizen-Times seeks to squeeze every last cent out of its few remaining print loyalists. How long can this strategy last? NiemanLab.org took a hard look at the question of newspaper pricing strategy in this story by Ken Doctor. A snippet:
What’s happened in newspaper pricing is that too many publishers have doubled their prices while halving the size, and quality, of their products. I can’t think — nominations invited — of other industries that have done that with longer-term success. It’s like selling a 20-ounce bottle of Coke for a buck — and then three years later hawking a 10-ounce bottle for two dollars.
The strategy isn’t sustainable. I’ve already heard from numerous readers who plan to drop their Asheville Citizen-Times subscriptions because they’ve had it with higher costs and a diminished product. At some point, the newspaper is going to have to go all in on a digital strategy. Until then, it’s all simply a matter of diminishing returns.