A recent update on the State of the Media website commenting on the Newspaper Industry’s performance in 2011, spoke about the disproportionate importance of the Sunday edition, and how it could lead Publishers into de-emphasizing the weekday edition.

Thank God it’s Sunday!

According to the State of the Media report, about 35-50% of newspaper advertising revenue now comes from the Sunday edition. If we add to it the Sunday edition’s 50% circulation revenue shares (logical given both higher circulation numbers as well as the higher cover price on Sunday) and a two-third to one-third advertising to circulation revenue split, mathematically we should end up with the Sunday edition generating 40-50% of overall print revenues.

The Sunday edition’s revenues are due to higher advertising revenues, especially preprint revenues (which account for 20% of the overall revenues today) and higher circulation revenues. It is pertinent to note that higher circulation revenues, thanks to more copies sold as well as higher cover prices, are in themselves a function of the strength of the preprint section. Thus Preprints are a triple whammy for the Sunday edition – 1) they bring in revenue themselves 2) they help sell more copies due to the price-saving benefit they offer, and enable papers to charge more, thus generating higher circulation revenue, and finally 3) the higher audiences on Sundays enable newspapers to charge more for regular display and classified ads on Sunday!

Reimagining the daily newspaper

With the bulk of print ad revenues coming on 3 days of the week,  viz., Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – Ken Doctor of Newsonomics estimates as much as 80% of print ad revenues  is realized from these 3 days – and given the overwhelming need to trim costs, it is not hard to imagine pushed-to-the-wall newspaper publishers choosing to publish their print editions on the ad-heavy days of the week. Advance Newspapers has recently chosen to do just that by publishing 3 days a week and emphasizing the website.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that none of the papers marked for reduced printing and delivery (in Detroit and in Alabama and Michigan have circulations below 50,000 copies. They are mostly (with a few exceptions like the Huntsville Times) in the 100,000+ copies category, in which the newspapers have suffered the most.

Getting back to our original discussion, if Advance and the Detroit Media Partnership can look at a reduced frequency for printing / circulating the print edition, can other larger newspapers explore the same?

Monday Note’s Frederic Filoux discusses just that in his wonderful article which explores the economics of NYT as a Sunday-only paper. Filoux’s concludes that while NYT is in no imminent danger of reducing its print operations today, the inexorable pressures exerted by the market will eventually force its hand, dropping its unprofitable weekday editions and retaining its highly profitable Sunday and Digital operations.

Filoux’s idea is not wholly new. See Russ Smith’s observations  and Rick Edmonds’ post on the prospects of a Sunday-only paper. Jim Barbagallo talked about how by 2017 most newspapers will be Sunday-only.

…but a weekly newspaper is a magazine, no?

If this were to happen, I wonder how different the New York Times would be from a weekly magazine such as the Economist, or Businessweek. Sure it would be about twice as large ($1bn for the Digital & Sunday-only NYT vs $545m for the Economist1), and would appear in a broadsheet format, but apart from that I can’t see too many differences.

Curiously enough, the Economist refers to itself as a newspaper2, and not a magazine! The entity under which the publishing operations are run is titled The Economist Newspaper Ltd, just in case the point wasn’t clear!

So there you have it. While the magazine industry is itself in decline, and news magazine themselves are in trouble (see here and here; the future of the newspaper itself perhaps best lies in it becoming a magazine!

1 The Economist Group made £347m ($545m at exchange rates of $1.57 to the £) in 2011 as per its Annual Report. The NYT’s numbers are as per Frederic Filoux’s fascinating Monday Note article.

2 See The Economist’s About Us page for more on this. Rupert Pennant-Rea’s comment that he sees the Economist as a Friday Viewspaper is most interesting!