Do page-one teasers boost single copy sales?

From the mailbag this week, another editor writes to ask if  promos (throws, teasers) in the mast or nameplate area really boost single copy newspaper sales:

Mr. Reason,

We are examing how we use banners/teasers on our front page to make sure they are as effective as possible. Right now we often rely on a text-only streamer, although we do use art, graphics, cutouts, shaded boxes, etc., when the content calls for it.

What we are trying to find out is the latest thinking on what works best.

Do you know of any recent – or not so recent – research or study on the topic?

And, of course, I am interested in any ideas you could share. Should a paper always use some sort of banner? Should it be consistent from day to day? Is a text-only streamer effective, or simply better than nothing at all?

Any help you could provide will be greatly appreciated.

I responded that I don’t know of any recent publicly available research on that topic. (If you do, please email me!) The Poynter Eye-Trac research in the late ’80s (with which I assisted) confirmed that teasers with art, and more variety to their design, were “processed” (looked at) moreso than text-only teasers. Beyond that we don’t know of that much research. I remember reading about a small newspaper in North Dakota or somewhere in the early 90s, that did an experiment for a week, printing some papers with banner teasers, and some without, and putting them in racks around their small town, evenly divided, to see if they could measure the impact on single copy sales. I think the results were less than 2% gain overall, from the racks where the teasers were used, and I think they even admitted they could not necessarily attribute this to the promos – that maybe 2% of the people in those areas had 50 cents in their pocket or whatever. So not a compelling bit of evidence pro or con.

That said, I often advise to do some kind of promotion above the fold, so that the reader – at single copy or home delivery – has more than one or two stories to prompt them to buy or open up the paper. My fear with most dailies is that the lead story is often old news, so it lands on someone’s porch, fold-up, and the subscriber walks out onto the porch and sort of yawns, and doesn’t bother to open it. Creating a bit of enthusiasm amongst the subscriber set (retention) is a good goal to aim for as well as boosting sales.

I will say this: the words and visuals you select for mast teasers, or any above-fold promos, if you decide to use them, should have significant potential to sell some papers, and/or compel the home subscriber to dive inside first thing. If not, you are wasting space. (I have learned a lot from my tabloid clients in urban markets, who live and die by front-page promotions.) If you run a photo of pumpkins (or perhaps yams, in Africa) with the words “AUTUMN’S BOUNTY, See Page 12” just forget it. There’s no compelling reason that anyone would part with their pocket change for that, or rush to the feature page. Probably not even a pumpkin farmer or yam merchant.

However, you might have a food page with “8 Autumn Meals You Can Make In Under 20 Minutes” and perhaps this would appeal to the time-starved mom. Can’t say for sure – just my gut, and now that I think of it, a pretty blatant imitation of what the big magazines have done with their cover lines for the last decades. Think precision, think consumer value, think numbers. Typically, a 2-word teaser is a loser. Usually you need 5-10 words. I say avoid things like “Fall Movie Preview” – NO ONE is buying a newspaper for that crap. They’ve already seen it on tv and all over the internet and every magazine. (I’m a big believer in local, local, local in any case and can’t wait for the day that the smaller dailies give up on nation/world so they can devote more space to neighborhood news – just my view.)

Ok readers … any thoughts?

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1 Comment

  1. Jason Whitlock

     /  February 28, 2010

    I think the only thing that ever inspires someone to buy a newspaper out of a rack or a newsstand anymore is a huge dramatic story – big photo and headline – but maybe not even that. Has to be something huge with tons of coverage that someone wants to really sit down and mull over – versus just the lead story of the day, which can be obtained from anywhere. The future of newspapers is going to be lean and focused on home subscribers, who want a more literary and probably less frequently published periodical.

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