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Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Does USA Today Stay In Business?


While staying in a hotel earlier this week, I picked up a free copy of USA Today in the lobby. Browsing through it, I couldn't help but wonder how this newspaper stays in business.

When USA Today launched in 1982, it was a big deal. Here was a truly national daily newspaper, full of color and eye-popping graphics, with tiny stories and factoids that instantly made it every radio personality's must-read prep sheet. But over the years, and certainly with the advent of the world wide web, USA Today became less and less important. Oh, sure, it's still available in thousands of hotels worldwide -- where it's free, so no revenue flows back to Gannett, its publisher, for those copies -- but I can't imagine anyone plunking down the cover price of $2/issue to pick one up at a newsstand, not to mention $225/year for home delivery. Not in an era when you can get all of its content for free (no firewall) on its website.

Sure, with all those free copies distributed in every state, USAT can boast about its reach and readership to potential advertisers, but there are a lot fewer of the latter today. The whole paper, still broken up into four sections, is only 28 pages long. Of those, there were only a total of 3 pages of ads on Monday -- including one full page, several mini-ads in its "Marketplace" listings, a one-third page legal notice, and a small sponsorship of its national weather map.

By the way, in the digital age, why are newspapers still printing weather maps and forecasts? Is there anyone who uses USA Today as a resource for that information, which is much more easily accessible on any smartphone? Just because it looked amazing in 1982 doesn't mean you still have to do it in 2017. Along the same lines, why are any newspapers still printing charts full of closing stock prices? That is literally yesterday's data, no longer relevant as soon as the market opens today -- and also available instantly, with more news about each company, on any digital device.

The entire newspaper business has been in upheaval for more than a decade, as readers found information available for free online instead, which led to advertisers jumping off the sinking ship of print. But while paper subscriptions continue to drop, some -- including the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post -- have been smart about increasing their digital sides, where more people are paying for full access.

USA Today has made efforts along those lines, but I don't know how successful they've been. All I know is that the paper-and-ink edition of The Nation's Newspaper seems much less pertinent than ever.

Previously on Harris Online...