As more newspaper subscribers get their news on screens instead of on paper, the venerable Sunday coupon insert has languished behind the swiftly-changing times. Despite the advent of electronic coupons, internet printables and mobile offers, the Sunday newspaper still provides the vast majority of coupons that are offered and redeemed. Now, one coupon provider is planning to shake things up, by offering a digital replica of its Sunday coupon insert.
SmartSource’s parent company News America Marketing is working on what it calls an “eFSI”, or electronic free-standing insert – industry jargon for the coupon booklets contained in millions of Sunday newspapers across the country. “Many newspapers, both on their apps and on their websites, are now taking PDF versions of inserts, Target, Macy’s, a whole array of different inserts,” News America Marketing Chairman and CEO Paul Carlucci recently told an investors conference in New York.
He was referring to the digitization of many Sunday newspaper ads and circulars, which makes them available to subscribers who read digital-only versions of their local newspaper. At least one supermarket chain has discussed doing away with printed ads altogether and going all digital in the near future (read: “The End of Supermarket Circulars?”). According to recent figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, digital subscriptions now account for nearly 20% of all newspaper circulation – way up from about 14% a year ago. That’s a lot of readers who might otherwise never see those glossy Sunday inserts.
More of them are seeing the newly-digitized ads and circulars now, but not the coupons. So SmartSource wants in on the electronic action, by offering its own digital insert that readers can not only look at, but print from.
“We think this is going to be a very important business,” Carlucci said. He told investors the eFSI should launch and appear in 300,000 digital newspaper editions by the end of this year. “The reason we are taking a little longer in development,” he said, is because “we need security, that you can’t change the value of the coupon and you can only get one coupon downloaded in any method that you desire.”
News America competitor Valassis briefly ran its own eFSI test last year, offering a “RedPlum eBook” for several weeks in April and May of 2012. The eBook was an online version of the Sunday RedPlum insert, offering most of the same coupons as the printed version, but in print-at-home format.
There were some limitations, though. First, the eBook was desktop-only, since RedPlum does not support printing from mobile devices or tablets. Second, coupon prints were limited and many of them went fast. So, quite unlike an actual Sunday insert in which coupons continue to exist until you use them or toss them, coupons in the eBook could often disappear right in front of your eyes. On the other hand, the RedPlum test was open to everyone – which meant you didn’t have to buy a newspaper to enjoy getting the same coupons that were in the Sunday paper.
The RedPlum eBook went away after a few weeks and has yet to return. More than a year later, Valassis has not said what its plans are for the digitized coupon insert. Similarly, a News America Marketing spokesperson declined comment about the specifics of the SmartSource eFSI, how it will work and where it will be available, until all the details are sorted out later this year.
But if you’re one of the 20% of newspaper subscribers who don’t get a paper edition – or if you’d like to count yourself among them, were it not for all the coupons you’d be missing out on – electronic coupon inserts could be just the thing for you. And for coupon providers, they could be just the thing to help keep them relevant in our increasingly digital age.