MORE AND MORE community newspapers are interested in starting alternate delivery services.
That is why the National Newspaper Association, the trade group catering to weekly and community newspapers, is starting a new service to assist those who want to start delivering magazines, advertising or product samples to their subscribers.
The idea for the service came after the NNA's convention last year that included a session on how smaller newspapers could use alternate or private delivery.
"It was so popular that we kept bringing chairs in until we ran out of chairs. Then the session ran on so long I thought the hotel was going to start charging us rent on the room," said Tonda Rush, NNA president.
"From that, we concluded that there was a fairly high degree of interest," she said, laughing.
Mike Parta, publisher of the New York Mills (Minn.) Herald, spoke at that session. Along with neighboring publishers of eight other newspapers in rural Minnesota, Parta established a cooperative delivery system for total-market-coverage and shopper publications.
"It's a question of survival. It also allows us to control our own destiny. It allows us to control our expenses," Parta said. "Different things have made our industry unique at different times. It used to be that the equipment we used made us unique. Now it is our delivery system."
Parta started private delivery for competitive reasons. He began to deliver his shopper products to addresses in town first. Then, as he expanded into the rural routes, he and other publishers noticed they overlapped in their delivery routes and agreed to carry each other's publications.
"It took approximately a year for the whole thing to evolve," he said.
The system today actually consists of six separate delivery routes. By delivering more than one publication with each stop, delivery costs have been driven down significantly, Parta said. The delivery system delivers one shopper and the rest are total-market-coverage products of paid newspapers.
"Alternate delivery may be a new thing for a lot of [community newspapers], but they are far less intimidated about getting started with it than they were a few years ago," Rush said.
Traditionally, community newspapers are mailed to subscribers.
"We haven't done any statistical studies, but anecdotal evidence suggests that most weekly newspapers are mailed and the TMC or shoppers are delivered," Rush said, noting that exceptions can be found in both cases.
Before Parta started delivering his third-class publications, mailing costs had risen to 30 [cents] or 40 [cents] per piece. After the delivery system was up and running, average cost per piece dropped to 8 [cents] or 9 [cents] apiece.
"It's been very effective. It saves me about $50,000 a year, which to a lot of papers is the difference between being profitable and unprofitable," Parta observed.
Parta recommends that if a newspaper is paying more than 15 [cents] a drop, private delivery will most likely be a "very competitive" option. …