The Dallas Morning News is reacting to advert losses and declining circulation after five years of cuts by increasing coverage, hiring journalists and raising prices - the 'premium product' approach.
After all the cuts of recent years, "The only other place to go was to the consumer to say, 'If you really want this, we may need you to pay more for it,' " said Jim Moroney, publisher of The News. "It was a little scary. This was not without peril." There has been a recent subscription rate increase of 43%, from $21 to $30, and the good news is that so far this risky tactic has worked; 88% of the newspaper's home delivery subscribers have had a chance to renew, and 90% of them have opted to pay the higher prices, Moroney said.
"For newspapers to successfully pursue a premium pricing strategy, which I think is valid and right, they have to deliver a premium product," said Alan Mutter, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former newspaperman who writes a blog called Reflections of a Newsosaur.
This is exactly what The News has begun to do.
In the face of decreased newsroom staff, 24-hour cable TV news and free internet news, The News has added back cut sections (Metro and Sports Day), converted editors to journalists, and focused its reporters on local coverage, emphasizing watchdog journalism and community news.
And most notably, The News recently announced a search to hire five high-quality accomplished journalists to join its ranks. "If you look at what we've been through, and what a lot of the newspaper industry has been through, it's been cut, cut, cut," said Robert W. Mong Jr., editor of The News. "We want to draw a line in the sand, we want to hold the line and we want to fight back. And we want to do that with good journalism."
It is their intention to reduce dependency on ad revenue, which has fallen 30% in a three year period. To make up for this they have increased subscription and cover price, which has accounted for 10% of total revenue from circulation in 2004 and 20% in 2008. Of course to justify this increase an accompanying quality increase must come hand-in-hand, which is what The News is now focusing on.
However, higher prices will inevitably lead to cancellations and reduced circulation. Nevertheless some industry experts generally approve of the price hitching; "I think it's a good idea," said Philip Meyer, professor emeritus of journalism at the University of North Carolina. "I think we're headed toward a situation where newspapers will have to concentrate on the subset of the audience that cares most about local news and public affairs. You're trying for an elite audience, the ones advertisers want."
Interestingly, The News has not addressed the elephant in the room, the internet and paid online content. At present many of their articles are online for free. The attitude seems to be that the print edition requires all their effort for the time being.
"There's a transformation of the business that has to happen eventually, but right now, that printed newspaper is so integral to our business model," Moroney said. "We need it to continue to be profitable so that we have the funds to invest to make the transition that we are making, to a business that is more digital."
But sadly, most of the commentors on the article reporting these positive changes said they would be canceling their subscriptions, focusing on the price increase.