Gannett Co., the largest newspaper chain in the country, is eliminating Saturday print editions for 136 of its brands beginning in early March, the company said.
A company spokeswoman confirmed several reports that appeared over the last 24 hours, saying the shift is about adapting to the digital world — the demand for digital content is increasing.
“This decision better aligns our resources to maintain strong local reporting across our nationwide network, to better serve our partners and to accelerate our digital future holistically,” Gannett spokeswoman Lark-Marie Anton, said. “We recognize the deep loyalty our longtime subscribers have to our daily newspapers and are committed to delivering a quality product as we execute our subscription-led business strategy.”
She added subscribers will get online Saturday access to coverage, not just in their local circulation area, but across the USA Today network.
The move is the latest example in a trend for daily papers to eliminate print on some days of the week. What makes this significant is that it’s the country’s largest newspaper chain, and the policy extends across such a broad number of papers.
Gannett publishes 253 daily media brands, including USA Today, with total paid circulation of more than 2.6 million and Sunday circulation of 3 million. The company also publishes 308 weekly media brands (published up to three times per week) with a total circulation of approximately 1.6 million.
In addition to USA Today, the company publishes the Detroit Free Press, Indianapolis Star, Cincinnati Enquirer, Arizona Republic, Des Moines Register and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
It appears the move doesn’t affect most of the chain’s largest papers. WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee reported the Journal Sentinel isn’t one of the 136. The Boston Business Journal reported the Providence Journal and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette won’t be affected, either.
Anton said Gannett chose the 136 newspapers after analysis of distribution schedules, digital readership metrics, advertising volumes and other factors. “We are making bold progress toward our goal of 10 million digital subscribers and embracing the multiplatform, connected experiences our audiences and customers expect.”
The decision is also the reality of the newspaper industry. Local papers save money on production preparation setting up their papers. They save money on paper. They don’t have to pay plant workers on those days or drivers for distribution.
Reducing print costs as audiences move online reduces overall costs, even as newspapers deliver journalism on non-print days. The trick is to do it strategically, and not out of desperation. As Anton mentioned, trends in digital signups are part of the formula — readers implicitly indicate they are moving away from print. Advertisers do the same with their ad budgets. Selecting the right day is also a factor — don’t do it on days when the news about the local sports team peaks. Saturdays have long been the weakest circulation days for print newspaper.
For the newspaper industry, such moves are an appropriate path forward, just like the widespread implementation of paywalls after the bizarre 25-year experiment of offering online content for free, while charging for the same content in print.