Survey gets surprising results

In this special report, we highlight the results of a readership survey that suggests community newspapers in b.c. are making significant market share gains against their daily competitors.As well, eight media planners explain what community newspapers must do, from a sales...

In this special report, we highlight the results of a readership survey that suggests community newspapers in b.c. are making significant market share gains against their daily competitors.

As well, eight media planners explain what community newspapers must do, from a sales and marketing perspective, to get their product into the mainstream of national media buys.

The report continues to page 22.

The results of a readership survey conducted for a b.c.-based publisher of community newspapers have surprised even the company’s marketing manager.

Among other things, 37% of respondents to the survey, conducted in January and February by Vancouver-based MarkTrend Research, said if they could receive only one newspaper, they would rather receive their preferred community newspaper than either of the province’s two daily newspapers, The Vancouver Sun and The Province.

Dave Jenneson, marketing manager for the MetroValley Newspaper Group, which commissioned the survey of 2,800 residents in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley regions, says the readership and markets of the daily newspapers in b.c. are eroding a lot faster than anyone realized.

‘It’s sort of like when the Berlin Wall fell,’ says Jenneson. ‘A few years ago, people were saying, `I wonder how long it’s going to take?’ And then things happened very quickly.

‘And that’s what is happening here. Five or ten years ago, (the response) would have been a lot different. Perhaps 5 or 10% would have said that. So it shows how quickly dailies are evolving out of the marketplace,’ he says.

When coupled with responses to a top-of-mind question, there appears to be a significant trend in b.c. toward community newspapers as an important source of printed news and general information, says Jenneson.

Over the past three years, according to MarkTrend, MetroValley newspapers have increased their top-of-mind share from 31% in 1991 to 38.6% in 1993.

Over the same period, top-of-mind awareness for The Vancouver Sun declined from 26% to 22%, while top-of-mind awareness for The Province dropped from 24% to 16%.

A MetroValley competitor, the Vancouver Area Newspaper Network (van), increased its top-of-mind share, over the same period, from 10% to 18%.

At the same time, 37% of respondents said they were reading their community newspaper more frequently than they were two years ago, while only 23% reported reading their daily newspaper more often.

Jenneson attributes the trend toward community newspapers in part to the fact that television, radio and daily newspapers are duplicating coverage of the same five categories of information: national news, national sports, entertainment, editorial opinion and business news.

People are already suffering from information overload, says Jenneson. They don’t want to waste time processing the same information from more than one source.

‘Most people watch the news at 6:00 or 11:00. By the time the morning paper arrives, everything I see I already know about. The only thing I can’t get from tv are some of the columnists. And there’s a bit more depth,’ says Jenneson.

People are also looking for a single source of information when it comes to planning their shopping expeditions, says Jenneson.

While 38% of respondents said they rely on flyers when they are in the market for household goods, 40% said they would be more likely to take the time to look or read through advertising flyers if they were inside the community newspaper, rather than included with the respondent’s mail.

‘They want things to be convenient for them. They don’t want to look through several papers and the mail. They don’t want to waste time doing things two or three times,’ says Jenneson.

‘Ultimately, what they want are maybe their flyers printed as pages of advertising, so they don’t have to go anywhere else.’

The strength of community newspapers in b.c. lies in their domination of local news coverage, ‘the kind of stuff people can’t get anywhere else,’ says Jenneson, and their connection to their communities.

‘I think the nature of the suburban paper is more responsive to its readers because all we have to do is ask. We can do a survey like this, ask people what they like and don’t like and act on it,’ says Jenneson.

‘At a daily, it takes an act of parliament to get all the managers together to decide when to hold the next meeting. I don’t mean to imply we are flying by the seat of our pants, we’re not, but when we get information, we can act on it a lot quicker,’ he says.

It also helps, he says, that over the past 10-15 years, the quality of the editorial has improved dramatically.

MetroValley newspapers swept the national and provincial community newspaper association awards last year, winning a total of 89 awards for excellence.

‘I think basically, the writers are better. There’s no question about that. In a lot of our markets, people look to our papers as much as the daily for editorial comment. That’s pretty remarkable,’ says Jenneson.

Jenneson acknowledges that the community newspaper industry in b.c. is better developed than anywhere else in the country, but says other areas of the country are bound to catch up, sooner or later.

‘It seems to me it would only be a matter of time before somebody realizes there is a lot of money to be made in doing a good job in a suburban newspaper.’

MetroValley publishes 15 community newspapers throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, including the Richmond Review, Surrey/North Delta Leader, Burnaby News, Tri-City News, New Westminster News, Langley Times and Chilliwack Progress.