Shattering the myths

The pilot results from the ComBase study show that community newspapers have higher and wealthier readerships than most people thought.

The pilot results from the ComBase study show that community newspapers have higher and wealthier readerships than most people thought.

Elena Dunn, executive director of ComBase, says that one of the most important findings was that there’s a large population that can only be reached through community papers.

‘I didn’t expect to see that non-readers of dailies were reading community newspapers. I would have thought there would be more duplication in the readership,’ she says. ‘But a CBC radio personality said he was not surprised by that, even in Toronto, because news is more important to him at the local level and he gets everything else he needs from other media.’

Only five markets – Red Deer (Alta.), Killarney (Man.), Campbellton (N.B.),Yorkton (Sask.) and Toronto – were involved in the pilot and the industry is looking forward with interest to the national roll-out to see if some of the surprising findings ring true in the rest of the country.

One of those findings is that newspaper readership is not influenced by whether a paper is a paid or free subscription. Much is made of this distinction by the Toronto dailies and national papers, particularly when the latest ABC numbers are released each year.

Over the year, publishers and many in the agency community have established the notion that giveaway newspapers can be discounted in the tallies because consumers don’t value a paper unless they pay for it. But that doesn’t seem to be true when it comes to community newspapers.

In several cases, the readership of community papers surpassed that of the dailies. This includes weekday readership in all markets, but it was particularly surprising in Toronto, Mississauga, and Ajax/Pickering. In fact, 37% of Torontonians did not read a weekday daily and 34% did not read a weekend daily. Of those non-daily readers, 55% read a community newspaper.

Readership of community papers is pretty much an even split gender-wise, with women higher for weekend papers, quite possibly as a guide for shopping decisions, while readership for men was higher on weekdays.

The study also unearthed the bombshell finding that many community papers have more readers in higher-income brackets than the dailies. In Mississauga, for example, more readers of the Mississauga News consistently fall into the higher brackets – from $30,000 to the $75,000-plus category – than readers of the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun or the Globe and Mail in that community.

A logical finding, says Dunn, because homeowners would naturally be more interested in local sports, schools and community issues that could impact their property taxes.

Right now, community papers capture only 9% of Canada’s total media spend, a slice worth $820 million, with just $110 million of that being national spending, according to year 2000 figures. In comparison, daily newspapers have 19.1% of the pie or $1.7 billion, with national advertisers accounting for $592 million of that.

‘Community newspapers are the largest medium in terms of number of vehicles, number of markets and number of readers, yet we’re in sixth place in terms of advertising spending and last place in terms of national advertising,’ says Dunn. ‘To me, there’s no logical reason for that except that we weren’t in the planning computers.’