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Duluth editor on reader/donors: ‘Something’s going on here’

As promised earlier today, spoke with Duluth News Tribune executive editor Rob Karwath about his paper’s unwillingness to take $205 from a subscriber who wanted to drop print but support newsgathering.

Karwath says the News Tribune will cash reader Chris Julin’s check, as well as another unsolicited contribution that arrived independently from a Duluth couple. “It was a little less than what Chris sent, but still a substantial sum,” the editor noted with satisfaction.

Karwath noted this was “the beginning of a conversation” about non-print subscribing, which I steered toward e-editions, digital replicas of print that are much more common than subscriptions to websites.

The Duluth paper, which was sold three years ago to the Fargo-based Forum chain, doesn’t offer an e-version. Karwath says the paper, formerly of Knight-Ridder, was looking at the Olive software platform, but the sale disrupted that process. The chain’s largest paper, the Fargo Forum, does have an e-edition.

“When the circulation manager walked in with two checks, I said ‘something’s going on here,'” noted Karwath, who’s writing about the synchronicity for Sunday’s paper. “Is it a flood? No. But we need to begin to talk about” making e-subscriptions happen.

As you might expect, Karwath sees this as a sign readers are starting to make the connection between paying and getting news. “Is the news free? No, it isn’t,” he says. “As much as we’d like it to be, journalists need to keep getting paychecks.”

Karwath estimates setting up an e-system would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, but there seems to be ample upside, particularly in Duluth.

Like papers nationwide, the News Tribune has trimmed its distribution area, but an e-paper would be a way to keep getting revenue from dropped areas without cannibalizing print payers. Also, Duluth has more than its share of departing snowbirds; Karwath says they see the online traffic spikes from Sun Belt states during the winter. The couple who donated did so because they travel constantly, and it didn’t make sense to get the paper consistently; an e-product offers a way to capture their revenue without erecting paywall around web traffic.

E-editions might not be Duluth’s answer. Still, Karwath called the donation coincidence “an example of how newspapers need to work to get into the modern era” (even though the News Tribune is further behind than many).

Observed the editor, “Coke doesn’t just sell Coke anymore — they sell Diet Coke, Coke with lemon. They have no problem selling a whole group of products. We have to give people what they’re looking for on the terms they want.”

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ron Brochu on 12/11/2009 - 01:25 pm.

    The DNT’s sale to Forum was three years ago — that’s quite a “disruption.” There certainly has been time for the new owner to implement an e-edition. Forum certainly can afford “several thousand” dollars worth of software, despite difficult economic times. The bigger question: How can it afford to slide backward while readers move to other platforms?

    It’s embarrassing that readers feel they must pay capital cost to bring the Duluth daily up to speed. For decades, Forum has earned healthy returns on its newspaper investments. If the corporation is unwilling to reinvent itself and reinvest, it deserves an ugly death.

  2. Submitted by larry fortner on 12/15/2009 - 08:26 am.

    must confess that i don’t know what an e paper is, other than it’s something the duluth news tribune doesn’t have. could you direct me toward a couple of good examples? and, how are they different from a paper’s website?

  3. Submitted by larry fortner on 12/15/2009 - 03:48 pm.

    okay, never mind. i have found the nyt e paper and now consider myself enlightened.

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