Newspaper subscriptions may be on the decline, and coupon issuers may be promoting the ease and efficiency of digital coupons. But the good old-fashioned Sunday newspaper coupon insert hasn’t gone out of style yet – in fact, it’s motivating many people to subscribe to their local paper for the first time.

That’s according to a new survey conducted by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey focused on people who recently subscribed to newspapers, to find out why they took the plunge.

And coupons played a big part in pushing some people to subscribe, while encouraging many more to stick around.

The study examined the motives and mindsets of more than 4,100 people who subscribed in the last three months to one of 90 local newspapers across the country. And it found that access to quality journalism wasn’t on some people’s minds, when they decided to pay to have the local paper delivered to their door.

12% of all respondents said access to coupons was the main reason they paid for a subscription. “I subscribe to get coupons and ads… not the news,” one respondent said bluntly. “I need to get Sunday coupons for grocery shopping somehow,” another said.

Only 27% of these coupon devotees said being a paid subscriber of their community’s newspaper made them “feel good about supporting the news organization”, and a mere 14% said the main benefit of their subscription is that they “get news that is only available to paying customers”.

You know the people who are annoyed at all the Sunday ad inserts and toss them aside before reading the paper? These people are the opposite. They pore over the inserts and don’t get to the news pages until later, if at all.

The study does point out that coupon clippers are “a relatively small group of survey respondents — about 1 in 10 subscribers — and it would be a mistake to think most print subscribers just want the coupons and are less interested in news.” But nearly twice as many respondents said coupons were, if not the sole motivating factor, a main motivation for subscribing.


Even many who didn’t consider coupons at all, become coupon converts once they become regular newspaper readers. After subscribing, 52% of survey respondents said they regularly use the coupons that come in their Sunday paper. Even if they subscribed for other reasons then, once those coupons start showing up on their doorstep, those discounts start to become rather appealing.

So some coupon publishers’ decision to remove their inserts from many major newspapers could prove to be costly for the affected papers. If your local Sunday paper no longer includes RedPlum or P&G inserts, how likely are you to continue paying for a subscription – or buying multiple newspapers – just for a measly SmartSource or two each week?

Sunday newspaper circulation is already falling steadily – citing the most recent data available, the Pew Research Center says total Sunday circulation was 38 million in 2016, down 8% from the previous year. Yet, digital-only newspaper subscriptions are on the rise. That’s good news for newspaper publishers, who will take paid subscribers any way they can get them. But what about coupon providers? Digital Sunday newspapers don’t help create more users of printed Sunday coupon inserts, which account for some 90% of all coupons distributed.

While younger readers in the survey were more likely to prefer digital subscriptions than older readers, they were also more likely to cite coupons as a factor in their decision to subscribe than their older counterparts. Unfortunately for them, access to coupons and a digital subscription are just not compatible.

Going through the Sunday coupon inserts “is an experience and ritual that is challenging to replicate online,” the Media Insight Project study notes. So offering digital coupons as part of a Sunday newspaper subscription “should be tried and tested”.

Most brands have branched out from the confines of the Sunday paper, making digital and printable versions of their coupons available online, accessible to all. And some coupon publishers have experimented with digital editions of their printed inserts. But there are still plenty of coupons in the Sunday inserts that you simply won’t find anywhere else. So newspapers could attract more subscribers by making full-fledged digital replicas of the printed inserts available exclusively to digital subscribers – though that’s easier said than done.

Fortunately for the journalists who work to create the content printed in newspapers across the country, the vast majority of new subscribers cited the news as being the main reason they decided to pay for the paper. And even among the rest of the subscriber base, there’s hope. One survey respondent admitted to subscribing to the local newspaper solely for the coupons, “but then I actually started reading it.”

So, yes, newspapers are more than just a vehicle for discounts at the grocery store. But if you can get yourself a subscription that pays for itself in coupon savings – keeping newspapers, advertisers and yourself happy – it could ultimately result in a win-win-win for everyone.

Photo by Valerie Everett

One Comment

  1. Thank you for stopping by Jody.

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