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Little Rock newspaper embraces digital changes

Little Rock newspaper embraces digital changes

Publisher announces iPad subscription plan

April 12th, 2019 by Karl Richter in Texarkana News

Walter Hussman demonstrates how the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's digital newspaper works on an iPad at the Rotary Club luncheon on Thursday at the Northridge Country Club in Texarkana, Texas. Hussman spoke about how newspapers have been evolving to keep revenue and stay afloat in the economy of today's world.

Photo by Hunt Mercier /Texarkana Gazette.

Delivering digitized replicas of the newspaper via internet is the way forward for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and perhaps the whole industry, its publisher told a Texarkana audience Thursday.

Please Note

The iPad program announced Thursday does not change anything for Texarkana Gazette subscribers. If you receive a newspaper at your home or office, you will continue to do so. This option is only for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette subscribers. The Texarkana Gazette will continue to have newspaper home delivery seven days a week and 24/7 digital access online.

The decision to stop daily delivery of the Democrat-Gazette's print edition in several Arkansas markets—soon including the Texarkana region—results from revolutionary changes in news-media economics, Walter Hussman Jr. said. Hussman, also publisher of the Texarkana Gazette, spoke during a luncheon meeting of the Wilbur Smith Rotary Club at Northridge Country Club on the Texas side.

Beginning May 13, local Democrat-Gazette subscribers will continue to receive a printed newspaper on Sundays, and every day they will get a digital replica delivered to their computer, tablet or smartphone. They will also have full access to the paper's website,
arkansasonline.com.

This move will have no effect on the Texarkana Gazette. It will continue to have newspaper home delivery seven days a week and 24/7 digital publications.

To ensure a high-quality reading experience, the Democrat-Gazette is giving an Apple iPad tablet to any subscriber who wants one. Subscribers may keep the iPads, which retail for more than $300, as long as they take the paper.

Hussman demonstrated features and advantages of the replica edition, including expanded content, all-color photography, shareability via email and social media, embedded videos and photo galleries, and 60-edition storage capacity. He said most subscribers get the replica much earlier in the morning than they would get a physical paper on their doorsteps, and there is no chance it will be ruined by rain.

"You deliver it digitally, but as you can see, it's the newspaper," he said.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff will host workshops to teach people how to use the technology and will make house calls to customers who cannot come.

"We're going to give people customer service like 50 years ago. No one's seen customer service like this," he said.

The innovation is a way to continue to provide a large quantity of high-quality content at a relatively low subscription rate, while other newspapers across the country have decreased their daily page counts and raised their rates to as high as $80 a month, Hussman said.

"We wish somebody else had done this before us so we could figure out whether it worked or not, but no one's done it," he said. "And I think if it comes down to paper or content, people value the content more, the journalistic content."

In an environment where newspaper advertising revenues have plummeted, cutting some costs, including those of printing and delivering newspapers, is the only way to keep publishing a paper viable, Hussman said. But he has been determined to maintain the Democrat-Gazette's standards.

"Here's the way the economics have worked. Instead of cutting the news staff, cutting the news pages, we've basically been just cutting our profits every year, so they get lower and lower until last year, we didn't make any money. We actually lost a little bit of money," he said.

The advent of the world wide web and the subsequent dominance of Google and Facebook "totally disrupted" the traditional newspaper business model, which was based on 80% revenue from advertising and 20% from subscription fees, he said.

Newspaper print advertising revenues decreased by $35 billion between 2006 and 2017 in the U.S., while papers' digital advertising revenues increased only $1 billion, Hussman said. The loss of income has led to higher subscription rates, shuttering of printing plants and elimination of outlying circulation.

As for the Texarkana Gazette, as long as doing so remains profitable and sustainable, a daily edition will continue to be printed and delivered to subscribers, Hussman said.

Local Arkansas Democrat-Gazette subscribers should have already gotten a letter explaining the transition to an all-digital format. For more information, call 501-378-3847.

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