WE STARTED OUT a decade back in third place in a three-way race for local newspaper readers in Columbia County. Now we find ourselves first.
Are Champagne corks popping? No. We didn’t have time to celebrate. There’s another paper to get out. Folks who report, assemble and distribute The Columbia Paper gave heartfelt shrugs when they learned about this milestone.
The ranking we have achieved isn’t a contest. It’s a comparison of the total average distribution of newspapers that use a U.S. Postal Service Periodicals Permit to mail papers to subscribers. There are now only two local paid distribution newspapers in the county and we are one of them. The Postal Service requires that newspapers file an ownership statement each fall stating the average number of papers per issue. The number includes all the subscribers plus the single copies sold at markets, convenience stores and other retail establishments.
Over the last year, The Columbia Paper, on average, distributed 2,496 copies per issue. That’s 250 more than the per-issue average of our only competitor, the five-day-a-week Hudson newspaper, the Register-Star. Their circulation declined a little bit. Ours grew.
We get bragging rights for the next year and longer if we deliver news that informs Columbia County readers. And even that proposition offers no guarantee of economic survival. All you have to do is look at the history of newspapers in the county to realize how many have come and gone without a trace.
The names read like tombstones in the newspaper graveyard. There was the Balance in Hudson in 1808, when Martin Van Buren was a young lawyer. Hudson also had the Republican Fountain, the Thrasher and the Wasp, as well as various combinations of papers that led to the current daily. Around the county over the last two centuries people read the Advertiser in Kinderhook, the Hillsdale Harbinger, the Germantown Post, the Philmont Sentinel, the Rough Notes in Valatie and the Roe Jan Independent to name only a few.
You could do this same exercise with the makes and models of cars, TV shows or candy bars. But what our small but steady growth tells us is that some people in Columbia County see value in local news. Nearly 10% of the households in the county are purchasing The Columbia Paper each week.
This latest comparison of who’s ahead in terms of newspaper distribution is important to our survival because it’s a way to show advertisers that newspapers still matter when it comes to reaching potential customers. We don’t share any personal data about our readers, but what we do tell advertisers about you is that as a group you most likely live in Columbia County and you spend money here. The fact that you buy the paper is proof.
We depend on the revenue from display advertising, but our appeal to logic is seldom enough to convince potential customers that The Columbia Paper should be part of their advertising budget. Most frequently potential advertisers tell us that they now rely on social media. It’s true that digital advertising is a powerful tool, but poor internet service and the older average age of newspaper readers limit the usefulness of all kinds of digital media. There’s room for both digital and print in any comprehensive approach to local advertising.
We’re grateful for the support that readers have shown by subscribing to The Columbia Paper or buying copies at a newsstand. The latest Postal Service figures are a reflection of that support. And we believe there are more folks like you in Columbia County who might want to read the paper but who don’t know about us. We still have people tell us, “I never heard of your newspaper” or who confuse us with other publications.
It would also be a great help if, when you buy a product or service from one of our advertisers, you would mention that you saw their ad in this paper. If you visit a merchant who doesn’t advertise, tell her or him you read The Columbia Paper.
If you scan the names of the long gone newspapers in Columbia County on the website of the New York State Library, it strikes you at a certain point that nobody has updated the list of papers for a decade or more. The past ends in an earlier era.
That’s okay. We see The Columbia Paper as part of Columbia County’s future, not its past. And distribution figures bolster our view that there’s plenty of life left in this county’s biggest local paper.