What San Quentin Prison Can Teach You about Audience Development

Newspaper Audience Development
Print isn’t dead. In fact, it is the lifeblood of some publications, particularly for those without internet access.

The newspaper business has taken a pasting in the past decade, with print circulations and ad revenues tumbling as more people get their news online. However, those who have written the obituary for the newspaper industry have been shown to be premature on multiple occasions. The digital shift has seen more papers move some or all of their content online, but it’s also resulting in the development of new revenue models, some of which can help support continuing print operations.

Critical to the development of new revenue streams, whether from advertising, online subscriptions, or custom job boards, is audience development. While audience development may not seem that important for small, local publications, if anything, it’s more critical to success in these cases, and today local publications focus on audience development as an integral part of their long term plans. One example of this that may surprise you is the newspaper published by inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California.

San Quentin News: The Newspaper of San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin State Prison is perhaps most famous for hosting a 1969 concert by the late Johnny Cash, but the facility has also been featured in movies, fiction, and even video games. San Quentin has published a newspaper off and on since the 1920s and currently produces a 20-page monthly newspaper with a circulation of 11,500. The publication is not only for inmates, but also for correctional staff and members of the community, and is produced by inmates.

SEE ALSO: Redefine Your Newspaper’s Role with New Audience Development Strategies

As you might expect, publishing a newspaper from within a correctional facility is a challenge. Inmates are not able to conduct online research, but rather rely on volunteers to bring them printed information on topics like legislative issues affecting the prison population. Reporters are able to cover some topics – like Veteran’s Day celebrations – in a more traditional manner on the prison grounds.

Expansion of a Publication with Limited Resources

Like any publication, San Quentin News wants to extend its reach, with the goal of eventually reaching a circulation of 120,000. With the help of a University of California, Berkeley journalism professor named Bill Drummond and students from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, the prison’s newspaper staff has developed a 12-year plan toward that goal. The plan is one that any publication can appreciate: building the newspaper’s brand, getting people to pay for subscriptions, having a social media strategy, and recruiting volunteer grant writers.

Applying for grants may be a part of a publication's long term strategy.
Applying for grants may be a part of a publication’s long term strategy.

Currently the cost of the publication is $30,000 per year, which is covered by donations and grants, but reaching 120,000 readers will increase that cost to $647,000 per year – much of which will go toward printing. Raising this amount of money depends largely on audience development, much of which can take place online in an effort to expand interest in the publication among the non-inmate population.

Lesson: Interesting Copy Can Be Generated Anywhere

The publication of San Quentin News shows that compelling copy can be created anywhere, including within very specific and limited organizations. The 20-page monthly publication is roughly equal to a full page of news for every business day of the month, indicating that even hyperlocal publications can produce sufficient content for audience development and revenue development as well. And remember: the inmates responsible for the publication are not even able to do online research.

Audience Development Is Possible for Any Publication

Any publication, from a weekly neighborhood newspaper to a big daily publication that’s read worldwide can benefit from audience development strategies. Exactly how a publication goes about developing an audience development strategy varies according to the nature of the publication and the audience. Typically it involves having a strong social media presence, engaging with readers rather than simply using social media as an announcement platform, and providing features that draw in new readers while making existing readers more likely to return.

For publications with a print and online presence, supplementing print features with online multimedia extras, using augmented reality advertising, and hosting a custom job board are ways to keep interest high while drawing new readers. San Quentin News has big ambitions about expansion despite its limited resources, and fulfilling those ambitions will require hard work and help from experts who understand audience development. Your publication can fulfill its long term goals as well, with a keen understanding of audience development, and a realistic long term plan, bolstered by the basics of fresh, reliable, high quality content.

Photo Credits: Naypong / freedigitalphotos.net, sixninepixels / freedigitalphotos.net

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