NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee's Guide to U.S. Newspaper Digital Editions

  1. Introduction
  2. AAM Rules
  3. Qualification and Reporting
  4. For the Audit
  5. Case Studies
  6. Digital Do's & Don'ts
  7. Industry Q&A
  8. Resources and Contacts
  9. Conclusion


Making the Digital Transition Smoother—And Making it Count

Jeff Hartley, Editor, NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Guide to Digital Editions

In the past few years, the newspaper industry has been transitioning and finding new ways to reach its audience. And consequently, AAM rules have been changing just as quickly. With a broad set of rule changes that went into effect in October 2010 and a few more changes for digital editions set to take effect in October 2011, the NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee decided to create a series of all-encompassing guides to explain the rules for newspapers, by newspaper colleagues.

Welcome to part one of the series, which will explain what you need to know about digital editions before the new rules take effect on Oct. 1, 2011.

Digital is a topic that’s dear to me as circulation director at The Augusta Chronicle and as the vice president of circulation for Morris Publishing Group. I started as a circulation director and have spent my career trying to figure out how to count everything of value—to our readers, advertisers and the future of our company.

And digital, without a doubt, is something of value.

Morris is aggressive in the digital space. From iPad editions to metered subscription systems, we have our hands in a lot of things and continually focus on new products to get our arms around.

I think that’s the story at a lot of newspapers, so my goal for this guide is to clarify the things you need to know about preparing your digital editions now and the things you’ll need to be aware of moving forward. And we’ll also get into some of the details along the way, like how to properly charge for and count your products.

The first section of this guide addresses qualifications and reporting of your digital programs for AAM. We present AAM rule interpretations, break down each reporting category with examples, and detail the records needed to qualify the types of digital circulation.

Then, we move to the real-world examples of newspapers that are tackling the digital transition. Many of the newspapers we talked with—both metro and community—actually have similar programs that use incremental pricing and work with a vendor to gather the data needed for AAM purposes. But each paper has a unique story, and perhaps sharing their ideas will help spark a chain of creativity at your newspaper.

The last section includes quick resources for you to refer to anytime—a list of do’s and don’ts, a Q&A with NAA Audience Development Director John Murray, and a list of links and contacts if you need one-to-one advice.

On behalf of the NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Communications team, I thank you for reading this guide and hope you find it helpful. If you have questions about anything included in this guide or just want to talk to another newspaper about making the digital transition, please contact any of the sources listed here.

Jeff Hartley is VP of circulation for Morris Publishing Group and circulation director at The Augusta Chronicle. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffreylhartley.

AAM Rules

Let’s kick off this digital edition guide by reviewing one of the biggest influencers of the digital edition programs you are designing: AAM rules. When developing your digital programs, there are three AAM rules you should know and reference:

Instead of republishing each rule in its entirety, we’ve provided links to them. This is not an all-inclusive list of AAM rules that may impact the qualification of your digital editions program, but these are some of the key rules we think you should keep handy.

Let’s review each of these rules and what they mean for you.

C 2.4 Separate Editions

(View this rule in its entirety)

This is the AAM rule that governs the separate editions of your newspaper, including branded editions and digital editions.

For digital editions, the rule explains that digital circulation is reported separately from print circulation throughout AAM reports. It also clearly states that public access websites do not qualify as either digital paid or verified circulation.

Tip: AAM’s Publisher Relations managers offer free, confidential reviews of your digital edition. They are also available to answer any questions you may have about AAM rules and guidelines.

This rule also notes the differences between a replica and nonreplica digital edition. A replica must be consistent in content with the print edition, although it may include updated news reporting. Typically, a replica edition is an exact copy of the print newspaper with all editorial and ROP advertising, although the rule allows some leeway in this area. The most common example of a replica digital edition is a digital reproduction of the print edition. In the March 2011 Newspaper Snapshot report, 450 newspapers reported a replica digital edition, far more than nonreplica editions.

Tip: More examples of digital replica and nonreplica editions are presented in the Qualification and Reporting section.

Nonreplica editions must be consistent in character and editorially homogenous with the print edition, but do not need to include the same advertising or any advertising at all. Some good examples of AAM-approved nonreplica digital editions are the Wall Street Journal’s paid access website and any e-reader editions of newspapers without advertising. For comparison, only 57 newspapers reported digital nonreplica circulation in the March 2011 Newspaper Snapshot report.

C 1.1 Paid Circulation Defined

(View this rule in its entirety)

The paid circulation rule is one of the most important in AAM’s rulebook. In the post-October 2010 U.S. newspaper-reporting world, it defines what circulation will qualify as paid, leaving any other copies for the verified or nonpaid circulation categories.

Here are some of the key highlights of Rule C 1.1 Paid Circulation Defined:

  • Subscriptions and single copies must be purchased by the individual recipient.
  • All subscriptions and single copies must be purchased for at least one cent.
  • The price paid by the reader must be net of all consideration. This means that the consumer must pay at least one cent more than the value of any goods or services packaged with your newspaper.

C 5.10 Subscriptions Involving Digital Editions

(View this rule in its entirety)

Rule C 5.10 Subscriptions Involving Digital Editions is the new AAM rule that governs all digital editions. This rule has undergone several revisions in the last couple of years and its most recent form will become effective on Oct. 1, 2011.

This rule is hefty and covers a lot of AAM territory, so let’s break it down and make it more manageable.

Incremental Pricing vs. Flat Pricing
The most important section of the rule involves pricing and it is very detailed. The main focus is whether or not newspapers charge an incremental amount for each additional digital platform in a package.

Tip: Most newspapers are launching incrementally priced programs. You can read some of their real-world experiences in our case study section.

If you choose to use incremental pricing in your digital offer, here’s what you need to know:

  • In an offer that includes both print and digital platforms, the print product is always the primary platform. If the offer only includes digital products, you get to choose which one is the primary platform.
  • The qualifying price for any secondary digital products in the offer is at least five percent of the print product or primary digital product.
  • You must present the consumer with the option of purchasing a print-only subscription or a single digital product subscription for less than the bundled price.

If you choose to build a digital program that is only available for a flat rate, here is what you need to know:

Tip: Want to know what kind of information you’ll need to have available for your next audit? Review our For the Audit section.

  • The subscriber must register and activate the account with a user name and password.
  • If the offer does not include a print newspaper, you may select the digital product that will qualify as your primary platform.
  • You may also select which of the digital products must meet the first (monthly), second (weekly) and third (daily) qualification requirements. Your selections may differ by subscriber and also from month-to-month.
  • The subscriber must access the “first” digital product at least once every 30 days; the “second” digital product at least once every week and the “third” (and any subsequent) digital products daily.
  • It is your responsibility to design and maintain a recordkeeping system that can support these requirements and make the information available for the audit.

Digital Editions and Verified Circulation

There are four types of digital circulation that may be counted as verified:

Tip: Rule C 3.3 Other Verified Distribution has more information on qualifying your digital verified copies. You can also read the Qualification and Reporting section of this guide.

  • Educational Copies – Digital copies used by teachers in a classroom setting or copies accessed by college students.
  • Employee Copies – Digital copies used by employees of the newspaper.
  • Retail/Business – Limited to library copies. Digital access to other public places, such as hospitals, hotels, restaurants or doctors’ offices do not qualify.
  • Subscriptions - Digital copies delivered to targeted consumers. The recipient must register and activate the account for any circulation to qualify as verified and access at least once every 30 days.

Other Key Items
There are a few other items in Rule C 5.10 Subscriptions Involving Digital Editions that are worth mentioning:

  • Your digital offer should have a definitive term. If it does not have a definitive term, the circulation will only qualify as paid for 30 days. Beyond 30 days, you will need to meet the requirements for verified circulation, including register, activate and access.
  • If your program does not feature incremental pricing, you cannot offer other goods or services to encourage subscribers to access your digital edition.

In our next section, “AAM Qualification and Reporting,” we’ll dive deeper into each type of digital circulation reporting category, where it appears on the statement and qualifications for each category. We’ll also provide a few examples of acceptable offers.

Qualification and Reporting

From websites to e-readers and smartphones, newspapers have a variety of platforms to choose from when deciding how to make their digital editions available to readers. There are also many ways to market print and digital packages to consumers and have them count for AAM purposes.

In this section, we’ll go deeper into some of those options. We’re going to break down each type of digital edition category, explain the necessary qualifications and present some examples of acceptable offers.

Definition of a Digital Edition

To include a digital edition as circulation on AAM reports, it must:

  • Have its access restricted (a public-access website does not qualify)
  • Be consistent in character with the print edition
  • Be compliant with Rule C 2.4 Separate Editions, which explains some of the necessary conditions to include separate editions in the newspaper’s total average circulation

Types of Digital Editions

There are two types of digital editions reported for AAM—replica and nonreplica. Replica and nonreplica editions can be viewed on a range of devices, from desktop computers to mobile devices.

Digital Replica Editions
A digital replica edition is basically a digital reproduction of the print edition. Replicas have the same editorial, advertising and layout as the print edition, although FSI advertising may be excluded. Replica digital editions may include updated news content and additional advertising.


  • A PDF of the morning newspaper viewed on a PC
  • A tablet app that lets you flip through a digital reproduction of the newspaper

Digital Nonreplica Editions
A digital nonreplica edition has similar character as the print edition, but advertising and the layout may differ.


  • A smartphone app that includes shortened versions of the stories in the print newspaper
  • A version of the newspaper with no advertising available for an e-reader

Where Digital Editions Are Reported

Digital editions are broken out by replica and nonreplica on Newspaper Snapshot, publisher’s statements and audit reports.

Publisher’s statements and audit reports now show the types of platforms used to access nonreplica editions—restricted-access websites, e-readers (with and without advertising) and tablets, and mobile/smartphones.

Para 1b 1cdigital

Digital editions are also included on the first page of publisher’s statements and audit reports in the executive summary and described in the publishing plans box.


How to Qualify Paid Digital Circulation Subscription Packages

Tip: Selling a mobile app with a one-time fee (say $1) for indefinite access is a digital subscription offer without a definitive term. This type of digital circulation qualifies as paid for 30 days. After 30 days, you’ll have to confirm that the consumer downloaded the app and accessed it at least once every six months to qualify as verified circulation.

Stand-alone digital subscriptions or single copies may qualify as paid circulation if they’re sold for at least one cent per year, net of considerations. There are many options when you’re choosing how to package and price print and digital editions.

When print and digital editions are sold together there needs to be some records indicating that the consumer wanted all components of the package. There are two options for creating and counting your digital subscription packages—incremental pricing or flat-rate pricing with usage tracking.

Incremental Pricing
Incremental pricing means that each subscription in the offer is available and priced separately. If print is included in the offer, the digital components must be priced at five percent or more of the print-only option. If the package is all digital, you can choose which platform will serve as the primary.

One Print Edition, One Digital Edition
If one print and one digital subscription are sold together, the print edition must be available separately, and all options have to be presented in the same way. The price to purchase the print and digital subscription must be at least five percent more than the singular print edition.

Acceptable Incremental Pricing Example
  • Yes! I want Friday-Sunday home delivery and 7-day online access for $25 a month.
  • Yes! I want Friday-Sunday home delivery only for $23 a month.

Unacceptable Incremental Pricing Example
  • Yes! I want Friday-Sunday home delivery and 7-day online access for $25 a month.*

*Print-only is available for $24 a month.

The example on the top is acceptable because each offer is presented equally and the print/digital package is priced at more than five percent of the print option. The example on the bottom is not acceptable because the print-only offer is presented with less prominence than the print and digital package. Also, if the print edition is $24, the total package needs to be at least $25.20 (five percent of $24, added to $24).

Print Edition and Multiple Digital Editions
Selling a print edition with multiple digital subscriptions has similar qualifications to selling one print and one digital subscription. Each component of the package must be available separately, but to purchase the entire package, the price must reflect at least a five percent incremental cost.

Acceptable Incremental Pricing Example
Choose an option to receive Anytown News for one year:
  • $130: All-Access package. 7-day home delivery, 24/7 access to Anytown News online and access to mobile app
  • $100: 7-day home delivery only
  • $25: 24/7 access to Anytown News online
  • $15: 24/7 access to Anytown News mobile app

Tip: Don’t imply that any part of the subscription package is free.

This is an acceptable offer because:

  • A print-only option is presented.
  • No parts of the package are described as free.
  • Each digital subscription is presented separately and is at least five percent of the print-only option.
  • The package price reflects at least five percent of the incremental price.
  • All options are equally prominent.

Multiple Digital Editions (No Print)

Tip: Only current single issues are eligible to count as paid circulation. More information is available in Rule C 5.12 Single Issue Sales of Back Copies.

When multiple digital subscriptions are grouped as a package, each subscription must be priced separately. The price to purchase the package of digital subscriptions must reflect that.

Acceptable Incremental Pricing Example
Choose an option to receive Anytown News for one year:
  • $124: All-Access Digital Package - 24/7 access to our website, mobile app and tablet edition
  • $89: 24/7 access to Anytown News online
  • $25: 24/7 access to Anytown News mobile app
  • $20: 24/7 access to Anytown News tablet edition

Access Confirmation (Flat Pricing)
If you choose to offer print and digital subscriptions as a single-price package, AAM will audit the usage of these platforms.

Flat Pricing Example
  • $100: All-Access package - 7-day home delivery, 24/7 access to Anytown News online and access to mobile app for one year

Tip: If you cannot properly track and record access and usage, you may want to stick with an incremental-pricing model.

Print Edition and One Digital Edition
If there is one print and one digital edition offered in the package, the consumer must first register and activate an account or download an app. The consumer then has to access the digital edition at least once every 30 days for it to count as paid circulation.

Print Edition and Multiple Digital Editions
If there is more than one digital edition included in the package, the consumer still must first register and activate any accounts or download apps. Then, the first digital edition must be accessed at least once every 30 days. The second digital edition must be accessed at least once per week, and the third and any subsequent digital editions must be accessed at least daily.

Tip: Want to learn more about what is needed for your audit? Look to the For the Audit.

It’s up to you to decide which subscription is considered “first,” “second,” and so on. This may change by subscriber or by month, but you will have to be prepared to show appropriate records for the audit.

How to Qualify Verified Digital Circulation

Verified circulation was implemented in October 2010 as a new circulation category that includes nonpaid newspapers or newspapers paid for by someone other than the recipient. Some digital circulation may qualify as verified. Below is a brief overview of how the different categories of verified circulation may qualify as digital circulation. For more information, please view Rules C 3.3 Other Verified Distribution and C 5.10 Subscriptions Involving Digital Editions.


To qualify verified digital subscriptions, consumers have to register and activate their accounts or download an app. They must access the digital edition at least once every 30 days.

Educational Copies

Tip: The St. Paul Pioneer Press focuses on NIE digital editions to reach its younger readers. See how the Pioneer Press and newspapers across the country are doing digital in the Case Study section.

Verified educational copies are digital editions used as part of the classroom. Rules C 3.2 Educational Copies and C 5.10 Subscriptions Involving Digital Editions further explain verified educational copies.

Digital circulation qualifies as educational copies if:

  • A teacher or administrator requests access.
  • Copies are used in a classroom setting.
  • Affidavits are obtained at least annually attesting to the information about the school and how the copies were used in the classroom.

University Copies

Digital editions accessed by registered college students may qualify as verified university copies.

To qualify as a verified university copy:

  • The digital edition must be made available for registered college students.
  • The student must register and activate or download the digital edition. Only those copies actually accessed will qualify for AAM reporting.
  • Each student must have a unique identifier, such as a student ID, to show the number of students who accessed the digital edition each day.

Retail/Business Copies

Copies requested by libraries for recurring distribution may qualify as verified retail/business circulation. The number of licenses should reflect the number of computers available for public use. Digital access to public places other than libraries (such as hospitals, hotels, restaurants, doctors’ offices, etc.) do not qualify.

Employee Copies

Verified employee or independent contractor copies are editions given to newspaper employees or independent contractors as a benefit.

To qualify these copies, the digital editions must be easily accessible and records must be maintained to confirm active status of employment, retirement, contractor or correspondent.

Read on to the next section of our guide to learn about the documentation you need to maintain for your AAM audit. We’ve included lists for each type of digital program that will be useful for you at audit time.

For the Audit

As a general rule, you need to maintain the same type of records for digital circulation as you do print circulation. The AAM auditor will look to verify three main areas: subscriber order, payment and account history. For certain circulation programs, you may need additional information. Let’s take a look at those now.

Paid Digital Editions

As we have learned in the two previous sections, a stand-alone order for a digital single-copy or subscription is the most straightforward of all the digital programs and its recordkeeping needs mirror its simplicity.

For the audit, please make available the following:

  • A copy of the subscriber order
  • Confirmation of payment

Paid Digital Editions with Incremental Pricing

Tip: Before you begin a digital program with an outside vendor such as Amazon, Apple or Barnes & Noble, check to see what types of records they can provide you to meet the requirements for audit.

From what we have seen so far, this looks to be the most popular program for newspapers to execute their digital edition strategies. One reason for its popularity is the ease of recordkeeping.

For the audit, please make available the following:

  • A copy of the subscriber order
  • Confirmation of payment

Paid Digital Editions with Flat-Rate Pricing

If your digital edition program does not include collecting at least five percent more for each digital platform, you will need to maintain additional records for the AAM audit. These records need to verify that the subscriber registered, activated and accessed any digital editions in the package.

For the audit, please make available the following:

Tip: For bundled packages with multiple digital platforms, you must designate which platform is first (accessed monthly), second (accessed weekly) and third or more (accessed daily). Your selections may differ by subscriber, promotional offer or time period.

  • A copy of the subscriber order
  • Confirmation of payment
  • Access to account history showing when the subscriber registered a user name and password or downloaded an app.
  • Access to account history showing how frequently the subscriber accessed the digital edition.
  • A document detailing which platform is first, second, third, etc. for each subscriber.

Verified Digital Editions

AAM auditors do not look for payment information for any verified circulation. Even if you do have sponsors for NIE programs or other programs, there is no need to maintain payment documentation. However, other audit documentation is required.

For verified subscriptions, please make available the following:

  • Access to account history showing when the subscriber registered a user name and password.
  • Access to account history showing how frequently the subscriber accessed the digital edition.

For verified educational copies, please make available the following for all of your classrooms:

  • An annual affidavit confirming:
    • Name and address of school
    • Statement confirming the newspapers were ordered, received and used in the classroom as part of the curriculum
    • The quantity of licenses
    • Number of students in the classroom
    • Dates or date ranges copies were accessed
    • Names of teachers who received the distribution
    • Printed name, title and phone number of the person signing the affidavit
    • Signature and date

For verified university copies, please make available the following:

  • Records displaying each unique student ID
  • Records showing how many unique students accessed the digital edition each day.

For verified employee copies, please make available the following:

  • Records confirming the individual’s current status, i.e., current employee, retired employee, contractor or correspondent.

The next section of this guide features stories from AAM members who are already executing their digital edition strategies. Some of the participants shared information about their recordkeeping systems that may be helpful to you in developing your own.

Case Studies

Honolulu Star-Advertiser Builds Successful Payway Strategy

HonolululogoIn August, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser erected a paywall and began charging readers for access to its web content and e-edition. Publisher Dennis Francis explains how the paper’s commitment to local journalism played an important role in their decision.

How the Star-Advertiser Decided on a Pay Strategy

Francis is quick to point out the cost of operating a newsroom and creating content, whether for print or online readers.

“We invest heavily in generating around-the-clock, in-depth coverage of local events, politics, and sports,” he explained. “We employ the largest newsroom in Hawaii with 116 seasoned professional journalists and newsroom staff. Charging to view this content not only in print, but also online simply enables us to provide our readers with the news and information they rely on whenever they want it, in whatever format is most convenient for them.”

Understanding the dynamics of the market and convincing key stakeholders that charging was the right strategy was not an easy task.

“Our approach was one of researching the best and the worst of dozens of newspaper sites across the country,” said Francis. “Then we developed our site. And while it is far from perfect, it incorporates what we learned. I believe we will have one of the better sites, for our market size, in the country.”

How the Star-Advertiser is Tracking Digital

View a copy of the Star-Advertiser's internal tracking report.

Hawaii’s unique geographic layout with several island communities and its tourist pull led to an uncommon pricing strategy.

“Our pricing model was developed to take advantage of Hawaii’s geographic location,” said Francis. “The farther removed from Oahu, the relevancy to the buyer diminishes. We also receive a large amount of unique visits from around the world from tourists that will be coming to Hawaii and former tourists that like to stay in touch.”

The Star-Advertiser offers readers five options:

  1. All access subscription – Seven-day home delivery with all digital access, including the e-edition, for $19.95 per month. Current print subscribers receive free access to digital news.
  2. Digital only (Oahu residents) – Seven-day digital access, including the e-edition, for $9.95 per month or $50 per year.
  3. Digital only (Other Hawaii residents) – Seven-day digital access, including the e-edition, for $4.95 per month or $25 per year.
  4. Digital only (Anyone outside Hawaii) – Seven-day digital access, including the e-edition, for $1.95 per month or $10 per year.
  5. Single-day pass – Digital access, including the e-edition, for $.99.

For their tracking system, the Star-Advertiser chose to use internal resources instead of an outside vendor, which is a departure from the other newspapers featured in this guide.

“Our system was designed and built in-house,” explained Francis. “We have a few third-party vendors, which are seamless to our subscribers. We built the system because we wanted to integrate the user interface directly with our circulation system. This makes it very easy for subscribers to create their accounts in real time, grants them instant access and requires no back-end follow-up on our part.”

Building an entire system from scratch isn’t always easy.

“Getting the system set up was a complete newspaper team effort,” continued Francis. “The Web team, circulation, news, technology, accounting, marketing and advertising departments were all involved. There was a lot of time invested over the past six months to make sure we were very thorough in our approach.”

Advice for Other Newspapers

Francis has encouraging parting words for newspapers contemplating a paywall.

“Newspapers have tremendous value, and in any community everyone knows the name of the newspapers,” he said. “It is a powerful brand. As you can see, we put a lot of focus and effort on our journalists. That is what separates us from everyone else. We had no hesitation in charging people to read us, in any format. And they are paying.”

Contact Information
Dennis Francis, President/Publisher


The Telegraph Uses Incremental Pricing, Tracks Usage To Drive Digital Readership

TelegraphlogoThe Telegraph in Macon, Ga. distributes e-editions to schools in the NIE program, print subscribers who opt in, and readers who want the e-edition as a sole product. Phil Schroder, audience development manager, explains how the newspaper is counting its digital subscribers.

How The Telegraph is Distributing Digital Editions

View copies of The Telegraph's subscription offers.

The Telegraph offers an incrementally priced seven-day e-edition in addition to the print subscription.

“We’re working on starting to track usage, but we felt that it was a better option to go with incremental pricing at the time,” Schroder said.

The Telegraph’s e-edition, the e-Telegraph, is a replica of the print edition produced with a digital solution from Olive Software. Approximately 6,000 customers now subscribe to the e-edition, and subscribers also receive an additional benefit of access to an archive going back at least three years. The Telegraph also partnered with USA Today on a print subscription offer. With this offer, both newspapers offered customers complimentary copies of the e-Telegraph and USA Today’s digital edition, which are not counted on AAM reports.

How The Telegraph is Tracking Digital Editions

Digital subscribers are entered into the circulation system, which allows The Telegraph to track finances. The Telegraph also works with River City, a Kansas City-based Web design company that many McClatchy newspapers use to track e-edition usage.

“I saw other newspapers doing solutions in-house, but River City just had a very robust solution for the right price for us at the time,” Schroder said. “Our philosophy is that if a company specializes in something, let them do it. We specialize in putting a newspaper out each day and marketing it the best we can—not doing detailed Web and database design.”

River City keeps up with AAM rules and works with many McClatchy newspapers on what they needed to implement to track digital subscribers.

“They have a report that we can use to view total volume for the week or for the month, unique log-ins, and what each user is doing,” Schroder said. “Even though right now we don’t have to have that for incremental pricing, we might need it in the future. Plus it’s a good idea to view that data so we can figure out how to better drive readership to the e-edition.”

Advice for Other Newspapers

Schroder suggested researching the different vendors that provide e-edition services.

“The biggest advice would be to research ahead of time how you’re going to handle keeping track of those customers, whether its going to be in a separate database or within your existing customer database,” he said. “Work closely with your IT and finance departments to decide how you’re going to handle that. We did not do this at first, and we had to go back and do a workaround, so that cost us some extra time.”

Contact Information
Phil Schroder, Audience Development Manager


The Seattle Times Uses Bundled Strategy to Add Digital Subscribers

SeattlelogoFor The Seattle Times, digital editions are a retention and acquisition strategy as for print newspaper subscribers. The strategy is designed primarily to create greater value to a print subscription. Read on to learn more about how it is approaching digital with print and digital bundled subscription packages from Curtis Huber, director/circulation sales and marketing.

How The Seattle Times is Distributing Digital Editions

View a Seattle Times subscription offer.

When The Seattle Times was solely a print edition, the role of each department—newsroom, advertising department, circulation—was clearly defined. But the digital world has changed how the departments interact and function. And as a result, they are carefully evaluating their organizational structure and processes.

When it comes to digital offerings for its print subscribers, the Times is looking toward a bundled strategy as opposed to incremental pricing. Registered subscribers—whether they receive the print edition daily or one day per week—receive access to the e-replica.

“Internally, we talk about the value of print subscribers and we see a bundling strategy as a powerful tool for retaining those subscribers. The Seattle Times’ mission has and will always be to serve its communities through quality journalism. And we view the opportunities with digital products as a means to that end,” Huber said.

The Times currently distributes an e-replica edition. This edition digitally replicates the look and feel of the daily newspaper, and subscribers can be notified when the e-replica is available each day.

The e-replica is easy to add to a print subscriber’s package. The Times has gone from 6,000 registered subscribers to more than 35,000 over the past eight months, the majority of which are seven-day print subscribers. Although e-editions aren’t contributing much to the Times’ total circulation number, they do show promise. Times staff are working on a suite of nonreplica digital products optimized for mobile devices, e-readers and tablets.

How The Seattle Times is Tracking Digital Editions

While bundled may be the Times’ best approach to retaining subscribers, Huber said getting over the hurdle of authenticating and tracking subscriber access has been a challenge.

“We understand we need a way to track usage,” Huber said. “When the audit comes, we’ll need to show the usage records for a particular day. We know there is a lot of data we need to collect and hold for the audit.”

To overcome this hurdle, they sought help and expertise from two of their vendors—one that provides their e-replica, the other that provides their subscriber self-service solution. Together they have developed the necessary authentication and tracking of subscriber activity, which Times staff can retrieve and submit to AAM for audit purposes.

Huber also said they have been working closely with AAM and their Publisher Relations manager to learn more about what is needed for qualification, tracking and documentation.

“We’re not looking to double count subscribers. If you get a print Sunday edition and you are meeting the usage requirements to count your electronic edition Monday through Saturday, we want to capture that. If you get seven-day service in both print and electronic, we still only count you once.”

Advice for Other Newspapers

Although it’s been a challenge learning how to authenticate subscriptions and strategically manage the amount of information needed, Huber has advice for other newspapers as they develop their digital programs.

“You have to know what it is you’re looking for, be clear about the problem you are trying to solve, and then consider a vendor option. It’s their area of expertise,” Huber said. “It’s their business, and they know how to do it. It made sense to use somebody who understands best practices. You might have to adapt and change your products to support it. Another benefit is that the vendor stays in touch with what is happening in the industry and updates their service accordingly. Flexibility is key.”

Contact Information
Curtis Huber, Director/Circulation Sales and Marketing


St. Paul Pioneer Press Creates Unique Identity for Digital Programs

PioneerlogoThe St. Paul Pioneer Press started its e-edition program as a way to distribute to areas that didn’t receive home delivery. Seven years later, the popularity of the Pioneer Press e-edition program has spread throughout the St. Paul area.

How the St. Paul Pioneer Press is Distributing Digital Editions

View the Pioneer Press e-edition home page and subscription offers.

A main focus of their digital strategy is creating a unique identity for digital editions.

“In order to present a solid value proposition, we established a clear differentiation between the electronic edition and our open website,” said Adel Ibrahim, sales director. “Our first step was to establish a unique URL in order to market the products separately. We then began to add a series of unique bells and whistles only available to paying subscribers.”

One add-on only available to subscribers is access to archived newspapers. By partnering with the Minnesota Historical Society, the Pioneer Press is scanning full copies of archived newspapers, such as copies from Abraham Lincoln’s election or John Dillinger’s trial in St. Paul. The digital historic newspapers are viewed just as a current edition. These can also be tied in with advertising. When the science museum had a Titanic exhibit, the Pioneer Press posted the issue from the day it sank.

Partnering with area schools is also a key aspect of the Pioneer Press’ digital approach.

“Schools are the main thing we’re doing the program for,” said Andrew Mok, vice president of circulation and technology. “It was really expensive to deliver print copies to each of the schools, so we developed a really good digital program with the schools.”

The newspaper has a curriculum writer who creates and sends content for the teachers to use on classroom projectors. One school bought iPads for its students and asked to add the Pioneer Press’ app to every device.

“We’re targeting a lot of the new technology kids use,” Mok said. “We’re trying to get them used to reading the newspaper and understanding how to navigate a newspaper through a new device. We’re really getting involved with them now so they become our core readers 20 years from now.”

How the St. Paul Pioneer Press is Tracking Digital Editions

The Pioneer Press makes its digital editions available for purchase separately from its print subscriptions. They chose this incremental pricing structure because it is easier to track than bundled subscriptions, Mok said.

They are also working with Tecnavia to distribute digital editions. Tecnavia supports many different platforms—iPad, iPhone, Nook, Kindle—so users can download the digital edition on their preferred device.

Tecnavia keeps track of site access, page views, unique visitors and other usage statistics through Google Analytics. Tecnavia is also working with AAM to determine how to best store and provide access to records and information needed for the audit.

Advice for Other Newspapers

While platforms may change, the Pioneer Press’ digital strategy remains the same—increase readership and provide customers with the service they want.

“Don’t use digital editions to shape volumes,” Mok said. “You need to develop your digital strategy. Start off working with the schools. Make sure it’s a valuable product. Make sure that the customers use it and enjoy it. If you just throw something out there, it’s going to fail miserably.”

“I’ve seen identity crises between electronic editions and regular websites where people can’t tell the difference,” Ibrahim added. “If you’re just starting out, spend the time needed to educate readers on what your electronic edition is, and of course, the benefits that come with it. Readers will be quick to write it off if they can’t find the value.”

Contact Information
Andrew Mok, VP, Circulation and Technology
Adel Ibrahim, Sales Director


Traverse City Record-Eagle Finds Success Charging for E-Edition

TraverselogoThe Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Mich. launched its digital program about a year ago. Rich Roxbury, circulation director, shares their digital story.


How the Record-Eagle Decided on Digital

View Traverse City Record-Eagle subscription offers.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle began its digital program with the intention to target younger nonsubscribers and current subscribers who want to access the e-edition from work, out-of-town or on a mobile device.

“We’re a very seasonal area, so we have a lot of snowbirds who are going to start leaving for the winter in a few weeks, “ Roxbury said. “With the e-edition, they can continue getting the paper while they’re gone.”

At first, the e-edition—a replica of the print newspaper—was free. But in the fall, they started charging readers to access the e-edition.

“That’s when we really started counting our numbers to see where it was going to go,” Roxbury said. “We got a few subscribers right off the bat, but it was slow. In early 2011 we began to tailor the content of our free site. That's when our paid numbers took off."

The Record-Eagle also marketed the e-edition with offers for new digital-only subscribers and for current print subscribers in all sales materials. Ads in the newspaper and special publications also promoted the digital offers.

How the Record-Eagle is Tracking Digital Editions

The Record-Eagle went with an incremental pricing strategy. Print subscribers can add the e-edition for an additional 50 cents per month via a separate transaction through a third-party vendor. If customers want only the e-edition, they can purchase it for $9.95 per month.

The Record-Eagle works with NewspaperDirect to distribute the e-edition and manage digital subscribers. Subscribers log into NewspaperDirect through a link on the Record-Eagle’s site and through daily emails. This company also manages payment and gives the Record-Eagle its cut of the revenue.

“If I were to do it again, I would love to have it more tied into our circulation database. The revenue part obviously would be much easier to track, and it would be easier to track who’s a subscriber and who’s not. I can do that now, but because it’s not part of my system, it’s a little more difficult,” Roxbury said.

NewspaperDirect does provide them with reports that they can analyze.

“It gives me averages, who the subscribers are, where they’re at—all the information I need for a publisher’s statement,” he said. “It would help a lot if that information was part of my system. And I think down the road it will be.”

Advice for Other Newspapers

For Roxbury, the most difficult part of this transition was making the switch to charging for digital content.

“Many people think we’re a public service,” Roxbury said. “When we started charging for the e-edition, I got a lot of phone calls and emails and got called a few names. But I explained that people here need to get paid. Most people wrote me back and said they would subscribe. It was a challenging couple of months when we did that, but it was the right thing to do.”

Contact Information
Rich Roxbury, Circulation Director

Digital Do's & Don'ts

Tips for Developing Your Digital Program

We’ve consolidated the most useful information from the four previous sections into a short and sweet dos and don’ts list.


  • Keep in contact with your Publisher Relations manager to review your digital programs. Remember that reviews are free and confidential.

  • Research your options if you’re considering an outside vendor to help track digital subscriptions and usage.

  • Be creative and take advantage of new technologies when developing your digital program.

  • Include additional content—hyperlinks, video, audio and updated news stories—in your replica or nonreplica digital editions.

  • Keep appropriate documentation to verify that the subscriber paid an incremental price or registered, activated and accessed the digital edition.

  • Consider a Consolidated Media Report to report any digital usage, mobile metrics or social media stats that don’t qualify for publisher’s statements or audit reports.


  • Imply that any part of your digital package is free with phrases such as “no additional cost” or “no extra charge.”

  • Serve back copies with the intention to count them as paid or verified circulation. Only current single issues are eligible to count as paid circulation.

  • Charge a one-time fee for an app and expect it to qualify as paid circulation. After 30 days, the app may count as verified as long as it meets the qualifications and the consumer accesses it once every six months.

  • Offer other goods or services to encourage subscribers to access your digital edition that’s part of a flat-price bundled subscription.

  • Try to count a free public-access website as a digital edition. A digital edition’s access has to be restricted to qualify on AAM reports.

  • Limit your newspaper. The rules for digital editions allow some flexibility when creating an innovative new product.

The next section of our guide features an interview with John Murray to give you more ideas for developing a successful digital strategy.

Industry Q&A

NAA’s John Murray

John MurrayAs NAA’s vice president of audience development and the staff liaison to the NAA/AAM Liaison Committee, John Murray has been immersed in newspapers’ transition to digital. Murray shared his thoughts on how newspapers are marketing their digital products and what to consider when choosing a digital strategy.

Jeff Hartley: How are newspapers packaging their print and digital products?
John Murray: As newspapers add platforms, many are either changing their limited access strategies or rethinking how their strategies apply to an app. It’s the topic of the day, especially coupled with revenue demands as newspapers acknowledge the fact that the business model is changing. We’re going to remain more dependent on reader-based revenue and less dependent on advertiser-based revenue.

JH: What does it mean for a newspaper to have a bundled strategy?
JM: Having a bundled strategy is an acknowledgement that various platforms are not competitors. They’re complementary. Bundled strategies are an opportunity to match up your readers’ demands with your business plan. Many newspapers are starting with a very simple concept and the appeal is in the simplicity. For say, a flat $15 a month, you can choose from a menu of products and frequencies that make sense for you. If the consumer only wants the app and Sunday print edition, they pay the flat rate. The downside is that you still want to have different entry price points for different market segments and you may be leaving money on the table. So that generally leads you to assembling different bundles for different price points to move consumers toward your most critical products. But your pricing can then dictate which platforms a consumer selects. And you might have intended or unintended consequences.

JH: The alternative is incremental pricing. Why are newspapers taking that approach?
JM: Incremental pricing allows a newspaper to grow its revenue base by upgrading consumers to other products. The most popular one right now is adding a digital replica subscription to a limited-frequency print subscription. A newspaper can see immediate gains through that small incremental price difference. The same is true of adding an app at an incremental price. But the way you structure the pricing might not be what the consumer is looking for. Many newspapers are trying to start with one price that gets you everything they have to offer regardless of platform, and then breaking that down.

JH: What are the pros and cons to these strategies in terms of AAM reporting?
JM: As digital qualification and reporting rules become effective, a newspaper does face a crossroad. If it chooses bundling as the best marketing solution, it accepts the burden of having to do more complex analysis and recording for audit purposes to include those digital products as paid. That burden may be worth it if the newspaper is committed to the strategy of bundled for one price. Incremental pricing has additional revenue opportunities, AAM reporting is simpler, and the complex data management required for qualifying copies under the bundled scenario is not necessary. Incremental pricing has these advantages and qualifying digital copies as paid circulation is an important consideration, but it should not be the overriding factor.

JH: Do you have a sense of which way newspapers are leaning?
JM: The vast majority of newspapers will be reporting digital replica copies using incremental pricing. Many have already established that as their pricing strategy for revenue purposes and the ease of qualification. It’s very likely, though, as e-readers and tablets become a bigger part of the consumer experience, newspapers will focus on qualifying that platform so that it can be reported as circulation. For now, they are generally are easily accounted for. In most cases, payment goes to a third party such as iTunes, and there’s no question there that it is paid circulation.

JH: How do you think AAM’s new digital edition rules will affect the industry?
JM: Newspapers can report all of their platforms and standardized metrics on a single publisher’s statement. In many cases, it’s a paid metric. A newspaper representative can sit down with an advertiser and say, “here is the number of paid iPad subscribers.” That can be very insightful in a world where so many other media sources are speaking in terms of how many millions of app downloads they’ve had. Our research has shown how few applications consumers use regularly. With third-party verification from AAM, the newspaper industry has an opportunity to differentiate itself by documenting how many consumers are actually paying for these apps.

JH: How should the industry market digital products?
JM: Digital is really a two-front strategy. Your first strategy is to be there with your traditional readers to provide everything they had in the past and more with platforms beyond print. Longtime print readers tell us that while they didn’t find the newspaper appealing on a monitor, they do find flipping through the iPad’s “pages” very reminiscent of their print experience. It’s not a tough transition. Your second strategy is to repurpose content in new ways that are effective in attracting new audiences. For this segment, there has to be an element of surprise in that it’s not just your traditional newspaper.

JH: What advice do you have for newspapers as they define their digital approach?
JM: Creating the correct set of offerings for the reader is first and foremost. Newspapers are struggling to look at it through consumers’ eyes. These are the same consumers that pay a considerable amount each month to mobile, Internet and cable providers. Many of these consumers were not raised with the old-fashioned “X number of dollars for X number of weeks” pricing strategies that these newspapers have. Bundled strategies are an opportunity for newspapers to make a shift in how they price and bill the products. A shift that is more in tune, perhaps, to how consumers are accustomed to paying for other sources of media.

There is opportunity for more revenue in the process. Some readers expect free access to the newspaper website because they use it for search, reference, archives and photos. They see it as a complement to their newspaper. But readers can be differentiated from subscribers. When you talk about apps or digital replica editions, there’s not that automatic expectation of it being included in the price, and there’s another opportunity for incremental revenue from all of our readers.

John Murray can be reached via e-mail.

Resources and Contacts

The following is a list of links and contact information to find out more about the digital programs and tips included in this guide.

AAM Resources

AAM Digital Editions Guide
AAM Bylaws & Rules
Newspaper Support Center
Publisher Relations Manager Contacts


NAA Resources

Topics & Tools – Digital Media
Topics & Tools – Audience & Circulation
NAA Business Development Contacts


Sources of Examples Used in This Guide

Dennis Francis, President/Publisher, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Curtis Huber, Circulation Manager, Seattle Times

Adel Ibrahim, Sales Director, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Andrew Mok, VP, Circulation and Technology, St. Paul Pioneer Press

John Murray, Vice President of Audience Development, NAA

Rich Roxbury Circulation Director, Traverse City Record-Eagle

Phil Schroder, Audience Development Director, The Macon Telegraph


NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Member Roster

Dan Schaub, SVP/Audience Development & Membership Services, The Sacramento Bee
Committee Chairman

Aaron Armand, Circulation Systems Manager, The Advocate, Capital City Press

James Boyd, Jr., Circulation Director, The Knoxville News Sentinel

Al Cupo, Vice President, Operations, SNA

Jeffrey DeLoach, Publisher, San Angelo Standard Times

James Galetano, Vice President/Circulation, Daily Herald

Antony George, Senior Manager, Circulation, Chicago Tribune

Sharon Gibson, Senior Director/Sales & Retention, Detroit Media Partnership

* Jeffrey Hartley, VP of Circulation Morris Publishing Group/Director of Circulation. The Augusta Chronicle

Steve Hesse, SVP/Circulation, MediaNews

Martha J. Hines, Circulation Director, The Grand Rapids Press

Helen S. Hoffman, Director/Circulation Sales, Gannett Newspaper Division

* James Lamm, Vice President/Circulation, The Charlotte Observer

Hugh McGarry, SVP, Sales & Marketing, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Courtney Price VP, Audience Development, Sun-Times News Group

* Linnie Pride, SVP, Circulation, Community Newspaper Holdings

Mark Quan, Circulation Director, The Virginian-Pilot

Valecia Quinn, Single Copy Director, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Joseph F. Salomone, Deputy Director ABC Compliance, Wall Street Journal

* Steve Wagenlander, Circulation Director, The Post and Courier

* Member of NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Communications Team


Digital Measurement Matters Today, Tomorrow

Jeff Hartley, Editor, NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Guide to Digital Editions

Having a compliant, successful digital edition program is crucial for today’s newspaper.

Over the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion and compromise between publishers and buyers to decide how to account for digital newspaper media. The results of those discussions are realized in this guide. The changes will undoubtedly continue in the coming years, and NAA and AAM will work to provide the information you need to create successful digital programs.

Our customers are constantly adapting to emerging products, and advertisers want to be in those products. It’s inevitable that someone will ask you for proof of your digital circulation. Supplying transparent, audited information will strengthen your relationship with buyers and in turn, help build a smarter, better media company.

Where we are now is not where we’ll be in five years. But it’s a start. Whether paid, free, delivered seven days or one day a week, I believe newspapers will continue to exist in many different forms used throughout the day. You’ll read the paper at home with breakfast, skim the headlines on your smartphone while waiting at a traffic stop, pull out your iPad while you’re waiting to meet someone at a coffee shop. There’s a strong market for those products.

So continue developing your digital side. Take advantage of the information provided in this guide, work with your AAM Publisher Relations manager, be innovative, talk with other newspapers. In the end, no matter which platform a reader is using, measurement will matter.

Contact Jeff via e-mail. 

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