On July 4, a new community newspaper was born in Plant City. Dedicated to sinking deep, local roots here, we opened with a high level of community excitement and interest.
Since then, we have published nine weekly editions, and the emotional support from the community has only gotten stronger. Ninety-nine percent of opinions expressed to me and our staff have been positive. Exclamations like these have been common:
“I love your paper!”
“All your stories are local!”
“The quality of your publication is obvious!”
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. When our energy or spirits have flagged after a 12- or 14-hour day, your positive comments have helped us move forward.
Maybe those positive comments and the energy your Observer staff has gained from them is the way it’s supposed to be — between a community and its newspaper.
Maybe after 90 days of operation and nine weeks of publication, we’ve learned that.
But we’ve learned a lot more than that, and that’s what I want to tell you about. This is intended to be a 60-day report to the community, a collection of the strategies we’ve followed and how they have affected our development.
We started with a full staff of eight. We printed 15,000 papers from the outset. This number was important, because we wanted to have the largest circulation of any of the weekly newspapers being distributed in Plant City.
Our first week, we distributed those papers to about 5,100 homes, and 7,800 more copies were placed strategically throughout the city. We distributed by hand at the city’s July 4 celebration.
Beginning with our second week, we began to integrate the 2,000 papers we handed out at the fireworks into our circulation plan. And in the past eight weeks, our distribution has grown to 6,500 in homes and 8,500 in boxes and businesses.
We think how we grew that circulation will be interesting to our readers and advertisers. We selected the first neighborhoods to which we delivered with the outstanding assistance of the Gibbs Real Estate firm.
As we began to sell advertising, we quickly learned how linked advertising and circulation are. Some of our first advertisers asked us to add neighborhoods to our circulation where their customers lived, and we did so.
When we began to sell ads for our first special edition, a planned eight-page high school football preview in your newspaper today, we found that our 15,000 weekly circulation helped us sell out the section in less than two days. We kept selling ads and ended up with a 12-page special.
Having added 1,400 homes to our residential routes based on our advertisers’ requests, we then began keeping track of the number of vacant homes by neighborhood. With these numbers, we reevaluated our distribution for maximum coverage.
On our commercial routes, we kept track of the number of newspapers in each box and office that were left at the end of the week. We also noted locations from which all the papers had been taken. Then, we added or subtracted to the number to be left at each location. We also moved boxes and added locations as the weeks went by.
Each week, the numbers in our circulation plan went up or down. But each week, we saw the amount of fluctuation in the numbers steadily declined. Our plan has gotten tighter and tighter, as we distributed our 15,000 newspapers more efficiently.
We like where our circulation plan is now, as we continue to learn how to integrate our advertising and circulation. We know we will continue to tweak the distribution on the commercial routes. As vacant homes become occupied, we know we will be adding newspapers to the residential routes.
All these changes, of course, point toward one of our first tests as a community newspaper — our upcoming outside audit of our circulation. After that audit this fall, we look forward to presenting to our readers and advertisers our outside verification of the validity of our circulation figures.