Hussman Determined to Save Newspapers, One iPad at a Time!

May 5, 2019

The family business: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. is determined to save the newspaper, one iPad at a time.

The newspaper publisher has bought thousands of iPads to give to subscribers in parts of the state who no longer receive print editions of the Democrat-Gazette. Some of those subscribers still receive the printed edition of the Sunday newspaper.

The efforts come as Hussman is being celebrated Thursday as the Arkansan of the Year by Easterseals Arkansas. And Hussman is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Arkansas Gazette.The efforts come as Hussman is being celebrated Thursday as the Arkansan of the Year by Easterseals Arkansas. And Hussman is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Arkansas Gazette.

"Basically, I've devoted most of my life to publishing a newspaper in this town," Hussman, 72, says. "I think that society and our democracy are going to be so impeded if we don't have newspapers."

Hussman points to recent local front page stories. "Who is going to cover things like that if there's not a newspaper?"

The cost of printing a newspaper, loading it on trucks, delivering it all over the state and paying carriers to deliver it to homes is expensive. And many local retailers who are struggling to compete against online giants such as Amazon can't afford to advertise.

Another "deadly blow" is the decline in pre-printed circulars that started about 18 months ago. The profit margin is higher on the circulars, he says.

So Hussman is sending out teams of newspaper employees to different areas of the state to show subscribers how to use an iPad to read a digital replica of the print edition.

"We lost money last year. We are going to lose more money this year because this one-on-one [iPad instruction] is expensive," he says. "But, if we can convert people, we are going to be profitable again in 2020. That's our hope."

Hussman needs to convert about 70% of his print subscribers to digital subscribers to make his plan succeed. Those subscribers would need to pay at or near the full subscription rate.

"If we can get pretty close to our full rate, we don't have to cut a dollar out of the newsroom. We don't have to cut staff. We don't have to cut any news hole. We can expand the news hole because it won't cost one penny in newsprint." Hussman is referring to the amount of space on a page for the news.

He has been on the road with his staff, speaking to civic clubs about why the Democrat-Gazette needs to convert subscribers. He takes a visual example -- the Feb. 6, 2018, print editions of the Democrat-Gazette and the Raleigh News and Observer. The Democrat-Gazette had 36 pages within six sections. The Raleigh paper had only 20 pages in two sections.

"I don't want to publish a paper like that, and I don't think you want to read a paper like that," he says.

The Sunday print edition of the Democrat-Gazette is still profitable and provides about 40% of the paper's advertising. The rest of the week, the paper loses money, he says.

The Daily Oklahoman recently sold for $12 million, Hussman says -- about the same amount he says he is investing in the Democrat-Gazette.

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