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The coupon insert providers’ publication schedules are always subject to change. But they usually don’t change very dramatically, if at all. So it’s very unusual, and perhaps a little alarming, that the publisher of the SmartSource insert has cancelled planned publications for two weeks in a row – this past Sunday and this coming Sunday – leaving couponers wondering what, exactly, is going on.

And publisher Neptune Retail Solutions’ silence in response to inquiries hasn’t helped to clear anything up.

The SmartSource 2022 publication schedule, which NRS chooses not to publicize but which Coupons in the News nevertheless obtained late last year, featured inserts on 43 out of 52 Sundays, with only a handful of holiday weekends expected to be insert-free, as is customary.

So it comes as something of a surprise to find that two weekends in mid-October have also now became insert-free. There was no SmartSource this past Sunday, October 16th, and there won’t be one on October 23rd, with publication now set to resume on October 30th. A review of more than a decade’s worth of Sunday insert schedules shows that SmartSource has never cancelled publications two weeks in a row, and has only ever taken a scheduled two-week break over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays – otherwise it has never skipped more than a single weekend any other time of the year.

So this mid-October two-week pause is as unprecedented as it is unexpected.

As noted, NRS did not respond to requests for comment about its schedule change. So couponers who look forward to receiving their inserts, brands that advertise in them, and newspapers that promote them to readers, are left to wonder whether this is an unremarkable blip – or a troubling sign of things to come.

NRS came into being two years ago, after private equity firm Charlesbank Capital Partners purchased what had been known as News America Marketing (NAM) from News Corp. NAM was best known for its SmartSource coupon inserts, in-store coupons and ads. But the brand was getting tired and the business was getting soft – in corporate earnings updates, quarter after quarter, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson continually blamed NAM’s underwhelming financial performance on a “continued weakness in freestanding insert products,” aka the SmartSource coupon inserts. So the company seemed happy to unload NAM when Charlesbank agreed to buy it in 2020.

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“When NAM was established, it was dependent on the distribution of coupons via newspaper inserts,” Thomson said when the sale was announced. “But, in recent years, the in-store and digital segments have expanded substantially” – and the printing and distribution of newspaper insert coupons was beginning to look like a business that was past its prime.

So Charlesbank created Neptune Retail Solutions and set out to make some changes to its newly-acquired fixer-upper. It invested in new digital promotions, discontinued underperforming products like print-at-home coupons, and it seemed possible that Sunday coupon inserts might someday be next to go.

SmartSource inserts have lived on, though. But it hasn’t been smooth sailing. NRS lost a major brand when frequent SmartSource coupon provider General Mills “made a strategic decision to shift to more digital offers,” and quit offering paper coupons in SmartSource inserts earlier this year. Other once-frequent SmartSource participants like Clorox, and Nabisco owner Mondelez, have hardly appeared in SmartSource’s pages over the past year or so, either.

So it may well be that the SmartSource inserts planned for this past weekend and this coming weekend no longer had enough participants to justify going to press.

Coupons in the News reached out to a number of brands that do still frequently feature coupon offers in SmartSource, but none would say whether they were making alternate arrangements to get their coupons into the hands of consumers, whether NRS had notified them of any other impending changes to its SmartSource schedule, or whether this pause in publication might accelerate their own efforts to “shift to more digital offers.”

While newspaper distribution is declining, and more shoppers are opting for digital over paper coupons, coupons from printed inserts still represent some 90% of all coupons distributed and a quarter of all coupons redeemed. Those redemption rates are steadily declining, however, indicating that fewer consumers are using insert coupons. But many brands still count on them as an affordable and efficient way to promote their products to the broadest possible audience.

“We believe in this strategy as a viable solution for our client partners,” Vericast Executive Director of FSI & Neighborhood Targeted Debbie Gauthier said of her company’s Save coupon inserts, as they marked their 50th anniversary this summer.

That said, printing and distributing paper coupon inserts is an expensive and time-consuming process, for demonstrably diminishing returns. NRS apparently decided it just wasn’t worth it, for at least a couple of weeks. The question now will be whether NRS ultimately decides printing and distributing a paper coupon insert is worth it at all.

One Comment

  1. What’s also interesting is now smartsource.com and smartsource.ca redirect to checkout51.com.

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