Role of Special Sections and Subsidiary Publications in Competitive Environment

By Shaver, Mary Alice; Lewis, Regina Louise | Newspaper Research Journal, Summer-Fall 1997 | Go to article overview
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Role of Special Sections and Subsidiary Publications in Competitive Environment


Shaver, Mary Alice, Lewis, Regina Louise, Newspaper Research Journal


Newspapers are developing their own niche products primarily to generate advertising revenue, but increased readership also may be a goal.

ewspapers today operate in an increasingly competitive market for both readers and advertising dollars. There are continued and increasing challenges from both traditional media, such as television, radio and direct mail, and from new advertising options, such as cable, shoppers and other free targeted magazines. There is a trend toward niche marketing as advertisers seek the most efficient methods to reach specifically defined audiences.

Responding to the challenges of changes in audience lifestyle and media usage patterns, a proliferation of new advertising vehicles and an emphasis on targeted messages to reach identified target markets, newspapers are developing their own products targeted toward specific audiences. An array of special topic ROP sections, free-standing tabloid sections and magazines serve readers and attract advertising dollars that otherwise would go to some other specialty publications or to direct mail. Some efforts involve repackaging of old content to ensure reach beyond regular subscribers in Total Market Coverage strategies, but others involve audience-specific publications that may be based on content for a particular interest or demographic group or may concentrate on news and events for a specific geographic area.

While entertainment, real estate, business and sports supplements have been produced at many newspapers for a decade or longer, papers today also are pursuing more narrowly defined niche markets with publications targeted toward seniors, minorities, teens and other demographic segments and with publications concentrating on specific geographic areas within the retail trading zone. Many are sold, but some are distributed free of charge. Subsidiary publications may be inserted into the regular paper, distributed through racks or at stores, or delivered directly to targeted homes through Publishers Express or some other alternative delivery method.

Although no comprehensive study has been conducted regarding the extent to which newspapers are producing special sections and subsidiary publications, this new product development activity has received a fair amount of mention in the trade press in recent years.

As early as 1988, newspaper publishers were selling the concept of flexibility to advertisers. Almost every presentation by the Newspaper Advertising Bureau that year noted the existence of numerous special sections and emphasized their role in making the buying process easier for advertisers.(1)

This mind set has prevailed in the 1990s. In 1992, the Competitive Analysis Project Task Force, a group headed by James Lessersohn of the New York Times Co., cited the Individual Appeal Strategy as one of several strategic options available to newspapers in the 1990s.(2) The task force defined the this strategy as one that "creates a series of daily features and weekly specialty magazines and lifestyle tabs so that the various special interests of changing consumers are served by tightly targeted publications."(3) The group suggested that newspapers also introduce electronic services as part of this strategy to further increase the targeting power of packages they offer.

The purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive overview of special topic and subsidiary publications produced by daily newspapers. Of interest are the niche markets addressed, the types of editorial content being produced, the primary purpose of developing differing types of publications (advertising revenue, readership, competitive strategy or a combination of these), the methods of distribution and the departments responsible for producing differing types of publications. By addressing these variables, it is possible to determine the scope of added value for readers and of competitive activity that newspapers are pursuing to maintain franchises in their markets.

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Role of Special Sections and Subsidiary Publications in Competitive Environment
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