After waxing doom and gloom for the majority of this space last week, I said I'd be back this week with a look at the brighter side of the media picture. Was I delusional? The intervening week has only brought more news of retrenching daily newspaper companies and cuts among our sister alternative newsweeklies. One such paper in Hawaii went under (well, they went to a strictly web presence) just a week after being admitted to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies at our Philadelphia convention.
The signs that prompted what some would consider my burbling optimism have to do with future indications for Isthmus - that it is headed in the right direction and maybe even be out in front in the search for a sustainable media future.
One such indicator came out of the financial standards exercise at the aforementioned alt newspaper convention. Isthmus showed 5.6% of its operating revenues being derived from the web. That is the highest percentage of any of the reporting AAN papers, up from 5.2% for us last year. For comparison, the average of all 62 newspapers that participated in the financial survey was 1.4%. Daily newspaper companies, according to Seija Goldstein Associates, a publications consulting firm, averaged 7.5% of their revenues from the web during the first quarter of '08.
Ironically, the web, the great bugaboo of the print industry, has also become its best chance for salvation. Newspapers are increasingly projecting their audience in terms of total reach rather than just readers. That means they are combining their unduplicated web traffic with their print readership into a new metric meant to describe their total impact in a specific market. We find some encouraging news for Isthmus in this perspective also.
The newsletter for Verified Audit Circulation, a company that audits newspaper distribution, cited a report from International Demographic's Media Audit that Isthmus has the highest penetration of any alt in the country. It reaches 37.4% of the city of Madison (up from 34.6% last year). In terms of the Madison market, a much broader reading (555,000 households versus the 190,000 households in just Dane County), Isthmus again had the highest penetration of any alt in the country, at 13.5% of the market.
These are good numbers for us, but that doesn't mean that we are insulated from the forces that are roiling the media. We got where we are by paying attention to the conditions in which we operate and adjusting to them. We will continue to do that. Look for us to institute efficiencies and foster an even greater collaboration between Isthmus and The Daily Page in the coming months. The times they are a-changin', and so must we.