Churn, baby, churn: it takes constant tending to maintain subscription levels

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Author: John Morton
Date: Dec. 2003
From: American Journalism Review(Vol. 25, Issue 8)
Publisher: University of Maryland
Document Type: Article
Length: 788 words

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'Churn" is an uncomfortable word for newspaper circulation executives, one they wish didn't exist and probably just as soon nobody talked about. Churn is the newspaper industry's soft underbelly.

Churn, for the uninitiated, is the number of subscriptions that a newspaper has to sell every year just to keep the circulation level the same. The term was picked up from the magazine and cable-television businesses, where churn has long been a problem.

It was not a huge issue for newspapers in earlier days, say 30 or 40 years ago, but in time it became clear that subscription turnover was a growing headache, especially for newspapers with large circulations.

Thus Miles Groves, then the chief economist for the Newspaper Association of America (now he's a consultant to the newspaper industry), decided in the early 1990s that it was time to find out precisely what was happening. What he learned was not encouraging.

The NAA's first statistical analysis in 1996 showed that churn was significant. Predictably, the problem was less acute for smaller newspapers. For papers with circulations under 25,000, the churn rate was nearly 23 percent. Had the same analysis been done, say in the early '70s, I...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A111768044