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It seems couponers have been keeping newspapers alive – and fewer couponers could kill them. So if you’re not clipping coupons as much as you used to, you may find yourself with no more coupons to clip.

At least that’s according to a recent Poynter Institute report. “The super-couponing craze, at its peak in the spring and summer of 2011, has run its course,” declares Poynter’s Rick Edmonds. That could help explain why Sunday newspaper circulation, long a bright spot in an otherwise declining industry, is beginning to stall as well. “The phenomenon of coupon enthusiasts buying multiple copies to increase savings has waned or stopped,” Edmonds writes.

The coupon craze that was sparked by the declining economy, and the publicity from “Extreme Couponing”, was welcome news to newspapers. Just a year ago, the Newspaper Association of America trumpeted “Sunday success stories”, demonstrating that “the Sunday newspaper has become a great example of value in a tough consumer economy.” Due in part to a high demand for coupons, the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Sunday circulation rose 6.7 percent last year. The Sacramento Bee embraced couponing, sponsoring “sessions on how to use coupons, how to shop using the newspaper, and to talk about the value of the paper to the community.” And Raleigh’s News & Observer was even willing to put up with the occasional newspaper and coupon-insert theft, if it meant more interest in its product. “We’re fine with the coupon craze and the show,” a spokesman for the paper told USA Today. “It’s a win-win for newspapers.”

But a year later, the heyday may already be over. The latest figures show that Sunday newspapers’ rapid growth has ground to a halt. Over the past year, daily newspaper circulation was down 0.2 percent, while Sunday circulation was up a barely noticeable 0.6 percent.

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Numbers like that have prompted some newspapers to bail on daily print editions altogether. Earlier this year, several papers owned by Newhouse’s Advance Publications, including the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Alabama’s Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and (Mobile) Press-Register, cut back to publishing only three days a week. Notably, Sunday is among those days. “For many papers, Sunday is the most profitable day of the week,” reports the Newspaper Association of America – even if it’s somewhat less profitable than it used to be.

The latest trend has newspapers not only providing coupons and alerting readers to deals, but jumping on the bandwagon by offering deals of their own. “News companies aren’t just covering Cyber Monday this year,” reports the Nieman Journalism Lab. “They’re hawking their own wares, trying to woo new subscribers with holiday discounts.” A number of newspapers are offering discount subscriptions to Cyber Monday shoppers who are looking for deals.

The Chicago Tribune is going even further – sharing news about Cyber Monday deals, for free. It’s giving away complimentary copies of the newspaper today to shoppers and deal seekers. “We hope this free copy highlighting the best deals will help, so you can spend more time with friends and family and less wondering where to find bargains,” a Tribune executive says.

Could this foretell a future in which coupon-filled Sunday papers are simply handed out at no charge? It would sure put an end to the problem of newspaper theft (read: “Alleged Coupon Thief Collared With 600 Newspapers”). Production costs could be offset by simply offering less news, and more coupons and ads. “Advertising revenue is still king in the newspaper business,” notes Edmonds.

But don’t get your hopes up just yet. Coupons for nothing is an intriguing thought, though arguably it would actually increase the problem of coupon theft, if taking stacks of newspapers is no longer illegal. For newspapers struggling to get their product into people’s hands, though, the Tribune’s experiment is worth watching. Free papers and coupons, after all, are better than no papers and coupons at all.

photo by: erix!

3 Comments

  1. The liberal bent on every newspaper is a major reason. It’s the propaganda machine’s fault.

  2. Where I live the cost of the newspapers have gone up WAY too high. Plus the coupons expire quicker and quicker, which is of no use to me.

    So instead, I get the bulk of my coupons elsewhere.

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