Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Influence of Front Page Photographs on Single-Copy Sales in Three Daily Newspapers. (Research in Brief)

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Influence of Front Page Photographs on Single-Copy Sales in Three Daily Newspapers. (Research in Brief)

Article excerpt

Circulation promotions can improve single-copy sales. (1) However, one customer satisfaction survey found newspapers decreasing in customer satisfaction at a rate greater than tobacco products. (2) Now, publishers are looking to the newsroom for help, and reaching the occasional reader "will be at least as much a challenge for editors as it will be for circulation managers." (3)

Design elements are seen as part of this promotional scheme. (4) Seen as a product, the front page is packaged and page designers use visual elements to guide the eye. (5) Readers prefer these modern designs and pay greater attention to and are more likely to remember pages with large photographs. (6) When photographs fail to complement stories, information processing can be interrupted. (7)

While readers clearly prefer such design elements, little is known about whether this preference translates into actual purchase behavior. (8)

The Study

I recruited three daily newspapers to participate with a promise of confidentiality. Over three months circulation directors provided single-copy sales figures and a copy of the newspaper's main city edition for that day. (9)

Analysis of the front page was limited to above the fold. Key variables, based on previous research and professional concerns, were the size of the photograph, whether local or not, the association with the lead story of the day and the nature of the content. Only weekday circulation figures were used.


The average depth for dominant photographs was 4.2 inches (SD=1.4) while the average width was 3.3 columns (SD=0.9). Local photographs made up nearly 55 percent of the photographs studied, followed by international, national and state, respectively. The most dominant photographs were associated with a news story and 62.8 percent were associated with the lead story. Nearly half of the newspapers placed their main photograph beneath a six-column story (48.6 percent). The next most popular location was in the center of the page with stories on the left and right (28.4 percent).

Analysis failed to find any direct influence of photograph features on single copy sales. One exception was from Paper 1 near the traditional level of statistical significance, and in this case local photographs resulted in fewer single copy sales (2,826) than non-local photographs (3,017, p<.09).

Other than size and placement, powerful content can also generate reader interest. Two types of analyses are reported, the first examining the standard feature versus hard news dichotomy, where no effects were found, and the second looking at the three categories of tragedy, politics and children. Paper 1 again demonstrated intriguing results that do not quite achieve the traditional level of statistical significance. For this newspaper, tragic photographs were associated with greater single-copy sales, while political photographs were associated with fewer single-copy sales.

These bivariate analyses may miss significant findings. For example, a large hard news photograph may spark sales more than a comparable feature photograph. Analyses based on photograph size in combination with the factors discussed above resulted in one finding near the traditional level of statistical significance, that for Paper 3, where wider photographs had a positive impact on single-copy sales for hard news, but not feature news (F(1,50)=3.3, p<.08).


Contrary to common wisdom, the size and type of the photograph dominating the front pages of these three newspapers had little impact on single-copy sales. These results suggest what many social psychologists already know, that a wide gap often exists between what people say they prefer, their attitudinal responses and what they do, those actual behaviors. …

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