The New Digital Ad Standard For Community Newspapers Has Arrived

Many local newspapers have done an incredible job building community in their print editions through special sections that speak directly to their specific readers. Through a study to determine what community newspaper readers deem most important to them, the University of North Carolina researchers found that above all, readers want to know their newspaper is the most credible and comprehensive source of news and information. This includes local news as well as community news found in special sections.


Understanding that the internet offers local newspapers a chance to enhance their ability to provide special sections and community news to a wider range of people while supplementing their print editions.

When news outlets provide content online that speaks to readers’ interests within a geographic region, they can connect various communities while maintaining and growing their print subscriber base. This is also where they have a chance to help their advertisers increase their reach and effectiveness by combining ad placements across online media types.

This also happens to be the main area most community newspapers have neglected to tap into, leaving their online ad revenue costs in a place of limbo. Simply re-purposing articles via their websites, which is what most local papers have been doing, leaves them unsure of how to determine a potential ROI for their advertisers.

In my last article, “Are Community Newapapers Missing The Digital Boat?”, I discussed the revenue gap between community newspapers and the digital space, based on the research included in Penelope Muse Abernathy’s new book, Saving Community Journalism. This gap is what Abernathy refers to as “the rate problem”, which began at the beginning of the dot-com era, when search engines held the power to set advertising rates. At that time, websites were focusing their advertising on trying to attract page views and increase traffic. The newspapers who followed this model were then being forced to charge the lowest advertising rates because they were in such a competitive situation.

Abernathy contends that the problem was that newspapers had no experience up until that point in setting online rates- they only knew their print rates. As a result, the advertising rates were then set by the larger search giants.

However, we have now arrived to a new digital moment where newspapers can enable their advertisers an unprecedented opportunity to reach a larger, more targeted market through proven online reader loyalty across geographic regions. Proven statistics of how their readers are growing because of special sections online open the door for them to change the way in which they price online advertising and, in effect, reverse the now-antiquated “rate problem.” Taking this path allows newspapers the chance to build their print editions through targeted and effective online niche marketing.

The average amount of new annual revenue a community newspaper needs to plan for is 6 percent, according to Abernathy, which can be achieved by building an effective online community with loyal readers. Abernathy’s forecast is based on the average lifespan of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of large companies. Their lifespan is approximately 16 years, leading to a 6 per cent annual turnover rate for companies included in the index. Therefore, she argues that community newspapers need to transform themselves at the same rate if they want to stay in the market.

There are several newspapers currently taking advantage of the digital market, and reaping results. We’d like to know, as a community newspaper, where do you see your opportunity to grow additional streams of revenue in the online space? Please let us know in the comments below.

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