Changes in the business environment for community newspapers have encouraged a growing number of publishers to investigate the Requester Periodicals category that allows a newspaper to qualify for Periodicals rates and service by having more than 50 percent of its circulation either paid or requested. The General Periodicals category long-used by newspapers requires paid circulation.
Key point one: Paid subscriptions or copies, including paid single-copy sales or qualifying bulk sales, count toward Requester status. However, the converse is not true—requests do not count toward paid, or General, status. That’s logical, if you think about it. And anyone thinking about converting should understand that once the paper can be received in the local trade area just by requesting it, people are less likely to subscribe. So your paid subscriber base locally will likely suffer attrition, along with the revenue stream.
One should still charge subscribers outside of the primary market area. That allows distant subscribers to keep up with news while also providing a subscriber revenue stream, and it adds “requesters” that add up to help Requester qualification.
WARNING: Periodicals Requester permit may or may not allow legal notices under state laws, which vary. Check to see if statutes require paid status, just Periodical permit status, or otherwise.
Key point two: The most common business model is to select a ZIP code or group of ZIPs making up a readership with common interests, such as a small county, a school district, or adjacent towns. Long-time practitioners of the Requester model like Jeanne Straus in New York have found that about 10,000 households or so make a good Saturation business model at affordable advertising prices. She sometimes creates “north” and “south” titles to keep coverage units at the model number.
She was the industry expert during NNA’s July 7 Pub Aux Live webinar. Straus News operates more than a dozen Requester publications in three states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, including—most recently—in Manhattan. 22nd Century Media follows a similar model in the greater Chicago market, having started from scratch a few years ago and is approaching a dozen titles now. Both groups are National Newspaper Association members, along with others across the country, that get assistance on Requester matters from NNA’s Tonda Rush, Brad Hill, and me.
Requester status may be more common among start-up papers than existing paid circulation General Periodicals papers.
However, it is possible to convert to Requester-only mailings, perhaps in larger markets where the numbers can be obtained to serve readers with local news and advertising at more than the 50 percent requested level, but not Saturation. But the advantage of Requester status is that after you have achieved your 50 percent requests, you may then add a nearly equivalent number of non-requesters until you can saturate a ZIP code or another target area. So you can achieve the same penetration you might have with a Standard Enhance Carrier Route product, but with the rate and service advantages of Periodicals.
Key point three: In-county postage prices have applied to Requester publications since 2008, after a provision allowing it was inserted in the last postal reform bill passed in 2006. This makes total costs to saturate a ZIP code much more affordable.
Only requested copies actually within the county get In-county prices, so qualified Periodicals would get at least 50 percent of their copies mailable at in-county prices if saturating an in-county market or part of it. Then, using the sampling privilege incorporated in the nonsubscriber rules for Periodicals, another 10 percent could be taken each issue over the course of a year. So at minimum, 60 percent of a saturation requester product could get in-county pricing if eligible otherwise.
Domestic Mail Manual rules previously required that all Requester copies pay Outside-county prices. The change means as much as 22 percent to 66 percent savings over Regular rate (Outside-county), depending on weight, for Saturation entered at the delivery post office.
For those who might wish to convert Standard Mail Saturation/DU used by some free newspapers, the savings can be as much as 59 percent to 76 percent for the copies requested In-County, and 23 percent to 89 percent saving over Regular rate, depending on weight.
Key point four: Requester rules require you to print 24 pages minimum every issue. That tends to lead to tabloid rather than broadsheet formats. There is no minimum page number for Regular Periodicals.
Key point five: There are stricter advertising requirements than for Regular Periodicals. You must not exceed 75 percent advertising in more than 25 percent of the issues. Previously, no issue could exceed 75 percent. NNA, with the help of Straus, obtained this change via the Periodicals Advisory Group of USPS, where industry and postal members must achieve consensus to get rule changes. Paid Periodicals can exceed 75 percent in half their issues, so the change was a compromise between the old Requester and General (paid) rules.
But that allows Requester publications to “concede” certain issues of the year with high preprint volume at more than 75 percent, and then work to keep issues that are close to the line at 75 percent or below.
Key point six: There is a real business cost of time and resources to obtain requests and keep updated in order to stay above 50 percent Requester, perhaps even more than required for paid Periodical to get and keep subscriptions. Publishers must be willing to do the hard work necessary. Requests are good for up to three years. But ongoing efforts to keep them updated, or “renewed,” are desirable.
Straus shared a lot of wisdom about techniques for getting requests, and other business strategies, during the webinar. But that’s not my role here, which is to explain postal matters. If you missed it, visit the NNA website at nnaweb.org, and click on the resources tab and scroll down to the Pub Aux Live link. An archived version of the webinar is available to members at a small cost.
MAX HEATH, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group, and also for Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.