Circ Execs: Keep expanding your vision and your metrics

tablet logo j

The way we were

As circulation executives, we had it hard-coded into our DNA to measure everything. Even reaching back into our years as front-line district managers, we did the same: complaints per thousand,  collections and subscription sales to name a few.
Moving through different jobs and climbing the management ladder, the metrics we learned to watch have changed and expanded. As primarily print circulation executives we focused on volume, retention, cost per order, penetration, churn, revenue per subscriber single copy marketing, total revenue and more. Over the years, we also cannot forget the increased focus on expenses.

The list is growing

While nothing has changed in the order of importance with the metrics mentioned above, that list is expanding with the digital transformation occurring at our newspapers today. We now have membership models, digital subscription rates, TMC/SMC and Sunday Select programs, digital/print and digital-only marketing plans, variable rate pricing, activation rates and the opportunity to grow revenue at an accelerated rate on our list of  responsibilities as well.

Understanding each of these newer metrics and how to use them is critical to the overall success of our newspapers going forward. We are no longer print-centric circulation executives but rather audience-centric circulation executives. Developing the correct balance between both is an imperative and not an option.

Anyone who tells you that growing digital subscriptions is not the key going forward simply doesn’t have a firm grip on today’s realities. Before we talk about the digital audience metrics we should be focusing on, we need to make sure we take all of the above and boil them down to three things we should be doing right now.

The three imperatives

Hold on to print. Most are in agreement that we must hold on to print for as long as we can but we need to focus our marketing and sales efforts where it makes the most sense logistically, where our revenue per subscriber is higher and where it brings the highest value to our advertisers. This also means we need to be delivering a product that still has high value to our subscribers and is rich in content. And don’t forget customer service. With strategies in place to increase pricing to our print subscribers, we need to become experts in providing perfect delivery service. A product rich in content, delivered on time is worth the extra price.

The value of verified circulation. Developing valuable nonpaid subscriber publications to protect preprints and penetration is also critical in the long-term as we develop strategies to increase the consumer revenue portion of total revenue. The mix of paid and unpaid subscribers is changing and both groups are very important. We need to look at TMC, SMC and Sunday Select type products in a whole new way. These products need to be rich in content and deliver high value to the reader, regardless of whether they pay for it. If your nonpaid publications are basically jackets to hold inserts, you might want to consider content enhancements going forward.

Digital growth. We must also grow digital subscriptions as fast as we can. This is new territory and new revenue – a rich revenue stream that can’t be developed soon enough.

Four audience metrics you should know

In order to develop successful print/digital and digital-only marketing plans and to grow subscriptions and revenue, we need to understand more about our audiences than ever before. We need to have an intimate knowledge of our digital platforms: how they work, how they are being used and what’s coming up to change any of those factors. With these four metrics you address the reach of your digital offering as well as the increasingly important attribute of engagement.                                  

1. Pageviews

Once the metric above all others, the way we look at pageviews is changing. At almost all newspapers, growing pageviews is named as the traditional way to grow digital revenue – delivering a larger inventory for advertising requests. Oddly, few newspapers actually exhaust their inventory or need more inventory. Pageviews are important for some revenue opportunities, but advertisers are becoming more savvy about the fact that not all pageviews are created equal. We need to grow pageviews in topics and behaviors advertisers seek. In-market pageviews harbor greater importance over general growth for most. In 2013, our focus on pageviews transforms to their relationship to engagement rather than just volume. The importance of pageview growth from an advertising perspective is also undergoing a major shift with new technologies available such as retargeting and real-time bidding that change the CPM dynamic completely.    

2. Time on site

One of the most important factors is the amount of time users spend on your website. The amount of time spent on the page will indicate whether users are engaging with the content actively. If your newspaper is consistently producing good content, these metrics start to become more meaningful. Many newspaper companies are increasing this metric by adding blogs, video, links to other relevant stories, slideshows and photo galleries. In the end, it comes down to valuable content in whatever form engages the reader longer – a stickiness indicator.

3. Unique visitors and visitors

Another important metric we monitor is how many devices access our newspaper websites on a monthly basis and how many times they come back. Growing this number is critical to the overall success of our websites for two reasons: More devices has to mean more access points. A lack of growth would be a bad sign given that people have more devices than ever before. Growing this number creates the opportunity for more engagement. Growth here indicates you are delivering an experience users want. Look at this as an indicator of how good you are at keeping people coming back for more. Providing these visitors with compelling content increases the level of engagement and affects all of the other metrics listed here. 

4. Pageviews per visit

Convincing visitors to view multiple pages is critical to driving the right kind of pageviews. Average pageviews per visit are an excellent indicator of how compelling your content is and how easy it is to navigate that content. It also indicates that users are digging into the site and enjoying the experience as a destination rather than just driving through. Are you marketing other parts of the site while users are on it? Marketing that content and making it easily searchable also play a key role in driving this metric. We’ve got to bring enough value, in terms of content and experience, to get visitors past the home page.

Understanding and embracing these four metrics builds the foundation for developing our long-term digital strategies and marketing plans. By adding these to your current list of key indicators you already measure, like household penetration, complaints per thousand and others, you are adding value to your role at your newspaper and your claim on future success.



About Jeff Hartley

Career Newspaper Executive specializing in Consumer Revenue Growth-both print and digital. Social Media and Mobile Enthusiast. Frequent speaker on consumer revenue and print/digital audience growth.
This entry was posted in Circulation, Newspapers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Circ Execs: Keep expanding your vision and your metrics

  1. doug sumrell says:


    Great blog!


    Sent from my iPad

  2. doug sumrell says:


    Read Jeff’s blog. It is a good reminder of some of the core metrics all newspaper executives need to be cognizant of.

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Keith Foutz says:

    Jeff, I think you have provided very clear and concise strategies that are worthy of implementation. I, too like the new OCR strategy but also believe we need to continue to develop and strengthen our partnership on the digital platform using the metrics mentioned in this article.
    Those who rely simply upon one platform vs. the other will be left behind as they need to work, as we do, closely together.

  4. lewis Floyd says:

    good discussion, but I like the Orange County Register ideas of providing a quality product with news and items people want, making it a relevant item to the market they serve and hoping to make it a necessary item for people to have in their everyday lives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s