How News Orgs Are Using e-editions to Raise Circulation, Invest in Future of Newspapers

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

While reading Romenesko last week, I came across a MinnPost story about the St. Paul Pioneer Press‘ success with e-editions. There was a nugget of information in the story about The Commercial Appeal‘s circulation going up due to NIE e-editions, which led me to wonder if other news organizations could benefit from hearing how the paper has used the print/digital hybrid to raise circulation and attract younger readers.

For some papers, NIE e-editions are an investment in the future of newspapers, as they help train students to read the “paper” — well, a PDF replica of it — as opposed to reading stories on the paper’s Web site. I wonder the extent to which students really make that connection, though.

How does reading an e-edition make them more likely to want to buy the paper as opposed to just reading it online? Does forcing kids to read the paper in class make them view it as more of a chore that results in them not wanting to read the paper at all? And how well do papers succeed in strengthening kids’ literary skills and their understanding of local, national and global events? These are somewhat lofty questions, but I raise them out of curiosity and for discussion’s sake.

To find out more about this topic, you can read a Poynter Online story I wrote last week:

As newspapers struggle to stay ahead of the transition from print to digital news distribution, many are turning to e-editions and watching their circulation figures jump as a result.

Sounds promising, right? Yes and no. While e-editions bring in new subscribers, they don’t necessarily bring in revenue. At least one paper, however, has found that its e-edition is attracting new audiences, especially younger readers and schools, and serving as an experimental investment in the future of newspapers.

Case in point is The Commercial Appeal‘s e-edition, called “e-appeal,” which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the paper’s overall circulation. Recent Audit Bureau of Circulation figures that cover a six-month period ending in March show that the paper’s circulation climbed 31 percent as circulation industry-wide dropped 7 percent.