Last month, Walter E. Hussman Jr. wrote an extraordinary letter to subscribers of his WEHCO Media flagship Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. After decades as a reliable profit-maker, the paper was losing money, he said—and the solution was for subscribers to convert from the print newspaper to digital delivery on an iPad.
“Although newspapers will never be as profitable as they once were, we believe we have found a way to return the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to profitability and provide a better and more robust reading experience for our subscribers,” Hussman wrote. “To do that, we need all of our subscribers to embrace the iPad replica newspaper experience.”
At the Joint Annual Meeting of Inland and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in Chicago October 6 to 8, Hussman will talk about the Democrat-Gazette’s decision to expand an experiment in digital delivery begun in a small Arkansas city to subscribers throughout the state.
The Democrat-Gazette’s bold leap from print to digital will be one of several new business models for newspapers that will be highlighted at the Joint Annual Meeting.
There will be sessions reporting on the progress of converting newspapers from a for-profit model to one that declares the newspaper a “civic asset” operating on a non-profit basis. There will be discussion of what surely will be controversial attempts to get government support for the continuing operation of newspapers.
Just last month, in a sign that new business models aren’t just for big metro newspapers, The Wilson Times and The Daily Record of Dunn—North Carolina’s only remaining family-owned dailies—formed a media management company to share production and other resources while remaining independently owned and operated.
Restoration Newsmedia, the new limited-liability corporation, now operates a pagination hub, and advertising design hub and outsourced printing for the eight newspapers owned between the two families. (See page 2 for a full report on the newspapers’ initiative.)
While the program is still being firmed up with input from representatives of both associations, this Joint Annual Meeting promises to be one of the most interesting and engaging gatherings yet.
For one thing, the meeting super-sizes the opportunities for networking among the attendees. Those who attended the first Joint Annual Meeting, in Colorado Springs in 2017 will recall that it unfolded before a large and engaged audience. Like that meeting, Inland and SNPA members will attend the same sessions, receptions and networking opportunities throughout the three days.
While the discussions of new business models will doubtless grab the headlines of the Joint Annual Meeting, the agenda will still offer the kind of practical, real-life information that have made conferences at both associations so valuable.
At the Joint Annual Meeting in October, for instance, Laurie Kahn, the president and CEO of Media Staffing Network, will address the pressing issue of replacing retiring Baby Boomer salespeople with millennials who operate in very different ways.
“Salespeople are becoming the hardest category to recruit,” Kahn said at an Inland webinar earlier this year. “With 65 million Baby Boomers retiring in the next 10 years, you’d better have a plan on how to build a stronger sales staff.”
There are also certain to be discussions of the next step beyond obtaining digital subscriptions—to keeping that audience engaged and paying.
Watch inlandpress.org for developing information on the programming and registration.