August 29, 2003

How Papers are Trying to Save Sunday

More people read newspapers on Sundays than any other day of the week. That's the good news.

The bad news is that each year an increasing smaller percentage of the population thinks the big Sunday bundle is worth the bother.

The Newspaper Association of America reports that about two of every three U.S. adults read a Sunday paper, a drop of about 5 percent in the last five years. (Longer timelines show deeper declines: In raw numbers, since 1977 the number of men reading Sunday papers has fallen 17 percent (to 43.3. million) and the number of women 12 percent (48 million).

These numbers, of course, follow the trendline of daily readership, which now hovers just above 50 percent of adults.

Editor & Publisher reports that in response to the drop-off in Sunday readership "editors are shaking up content, attempting to find the right mix for the modern, time-challenged reader -- eliminating some features, and tweaking or dramatically revising others."

Here are some highlights from the E&P story, an overview that doesn't address why readers are giving up on Sunday and what, if anything, is working to retain them.

 Sunday magazines: Fewer than 20 newspapers publish them, down from 50 in 1981. Some make money, most don't. Some publishers don't care. Says Dirk Van Susteren of the tiny (circulation 22,096) Rutland (Vt.) Herald, "Our surveys have indicated it is a popular section. People like the style of writing, the bigger pieces. ... You can't look at it from a profit point of view. Does page A-1 make a profit?"

 Book review sections: Only six papers publish them. Most of the national goes, not unexpectedly, to the New York Times. Says Marie Arana, editor of the Washington Post's Book World: "Book reviews garner only about 30% of the readership, which is low compared to the A-section or style section. But the percentage of readers who will actively buy from the book section is greater."

 Travel sections: They're doing more "close-to-home" stories and still paying freelancers lousy rates - $100 to $300 a story but also demanding that travel writers pay their own way. Says freelancer Mike Whye, president of the Midwest Travel Writers Association,: "Some papers, and I won't name them, have a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy - which is very kind of them, really, because without (sponsored) travel, the travel-writing market would just flat die."

 Comics: E&P writer Dave Astor says "surveys show the comics section remains one of the most-read parts of the Sunday paper," but doesn't cite one. Comics are smaller, tightened up to save newsprint, and less appealing to advertisers. The quote I want to see but is not in the story is the one that supports this statement: "Some theorize that text-oriented editors don't believe the comics are that important or are jealous of their popularity compared to, say, editorials."

 Television books: Says Ted Massing of the Kansas City Star, "Traditionally, [TV sections] don't make money. They're circulation-driving pieces." Still, the proliferation of channels is making them harder to produce and many are run by ad departments. Readers love them, says Kyrie O'Connor, AME/features at the Hartford Courant. She says, "The three things in a newspaper that you can never mess with are the TV book, the comics and the puzzles. If you're going to do anything at all with those, you'd better know what you're doing."

 Editor & Publisher Sunday Sections Evolve to Lure More Readers

Posted by Tim Porter at August 29, 2003 08:18 AM

Scooped! Tim's comments on this topic beat mine by 12 minutes. An eon in Internet time.

Posted by: Tom mangan on August 29, 2003 09:19 AM

All this silly tweaking is killing Sunday papers. The Kansas City Star is a 10-minute read on Sunday's because it's nothing but fluff. So we subscribe the the Sunday New York Times.

Posted by: acline on August 29, 2003 11:19 AM

Andrew ... I have to agree. I decided not to comment on the various efforts outlined in the E&P article because, like most E&P stories, it was paper thin, not bothering to assess the effectiveness of these efforts.

I, too, get the Sunday Times as well as the local SF Chronicle. I've always believed if newspapers treated the Sunday paper more like a real weekly -- e.g., the New York Observer -- and less like a place to jam the stuff that won't fit in the daily it might be more compelling.

Posted by: Tim on August 29, 2003 11:43 AM

I wonder to what degree Sunday's paper being so lame results from just about everybody having Saturday off (except the desks & sports folks). Is there really no news on Saturdays, or no news we can be troubled to report?

Posted by: tom mangan on August 29, 2003 02:21 PM


I found your weblog today via something on Corante. Your insights into newspapers' need to raise the quality of their content are spot on. I've added your RSS feed to my subscriptions and will be following your posts. I have a small project on the future of print and I'm always looking for well-formed opinions from sources that are outside the constraints of the "traditional" printing industries.

-- twf

Posted by: Terry Frazier on August 29, 2003 03:49 PM

If investigative journalism and irony were alive there would be no fluff even on Sundays...

CNN chief Jim Walton says Timex sells more watches (Fox News Channel has more viewers), while Rolexes cost more (CNN is able to charge higher ad rates because of its more affluent audience). "Rolex means something to people," says Walton. "I really don't think Rolex cares about how many watches Timex sells." Lisa de Moraes notes: "Fox News Channel claims it is Rolex and that CNN is 'more like an antique hourglass.'"

Fox News -- with its gladiatorial line-up of conservative talk show hosts sucker-punching strawman opponents nightly and calling it discussions of issues -- is not fair and balanced."

Government is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advance auction in stolen goods.
H.L. Menchken

Can any rational soul blame Supermen like Packer and Murdoch for attempting to sink Fairfax flagship which seems to be peppered with independent journalists?
The practice of socialising losses and privatising gains is hardly an Australian invention. As Alan Ramsey, of Fairfax Fame, once dangerously observed: Almost always, in politics, money is at the root of the greatest grovelling.

Dangers that Come with Freedom of Information Naked Leases: Shock Horror! Isolated Private Perks Exposed to Prying Public

Big businesses and some of the world's wealthiest people are renting taxpayer-owned land in NSW for peppercorn rates under a system that is riddled with inconsistencies and loopholes.
Office buildings, factories, marinas, petrol stations, restaurants, prestigious golf courses, five-star resorts and homes have been built on the land.
The total rent collected by the Department of Lands for 37.5 million hectares - nearly half the State - is just $60 million a year. That is less than $2 per hectare in the public purse.
· Identifying the Commonwealth Buck [SMH with a link to related article]
· Their Post Political Honor [SMH]

Posted by: jozef on August 29, 2003 11:11 PM
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