Friday, July 09, 2010

10 ways to improve your distribution

A reader of this blog asked me if I had any ideas on how to improve his circulation. I told him to stop smoking and take a brisk walk every morning.

As for the delivery of newspapers, I wish I had a cute one-liner. Transportation and delivery logistics are one of the most difficult challenges facing any free daily newspaper. No matter how strong your news coverage is, no matter how aggressive your ad reps are, you can't succeed unless you deliver the product to readers. And, sad to say, ads in online editions just don't bring in the dollars you can get through print advertising.

The following is my attempt to bring together the best ideas I've heard regarding distribution. Very few of them are original, but I'm not sure if those who offered their ideas wanted their names associated with them or not, so I won't attribute my sources. Here goes.
    1. For free papers, news racks are essential. If you can't buy new racks, get used ones. Calls to landfill managers and recycling plants can be helpful -- let them know that if they ever see any old racks they should give you a call. Sometimes all an old rack needs is a good paint job. And remember, you don't need the coin mechanism if you're free, so rip it out before you put the rack on the streets.
    2. Avoid throwing a bundle of papers at the front door of a restaurant or retailer who is supposed to display your papers. Sure, some employees of these businesses might figure out that they should place your papers inside where customers can grab them. But many businesses have a lot of turnover, and the next employee might regard your bundle as trash. Instead, when the business opens, you might have a delivery person return to place the papers inside.

    3. If possible, hire a daytime delivery person or persons to walk a downtown district. This person's job might not be so much a delivery job as much as a job to make sure that papers delivered earlier got to the right distribution points. This person could also help with the paper's public relations by listening to businesses who have complaints about delivery and establishing new distribution points. I think it was the San Mateo (California) Daily Journal who called these people "ambassadors" -- a good title.

    4. Know your news rack ordinances. Most cities put them online. Look for the municipal code on the city's website. If it's not there, go to the city's Planning Department or Code Enforcement office and ask for a copy.

    5. City officials don't like complaints from residents or businesses. Keep this in mind when you're placing a new rack. Even if the rack is perfectly legal under the code, if it becomes controversial, you'll have to move it -- or get into a time-consuming fight.
    6. In many cities, competing newspapers work together to install modular racks for several papers. If you're not aware of this practice, call your competitors and ask. You'll have to pay your share for rack units and installation, but you don't want to be left out of the next modular unit that's installed.

    7. Avoid inserts. Inserts tend to fall out of a stack of papers and make a mess on the floor. If you're distributing inside a business, the mess might jeopardize your ability to distribute there in the future.

    8. Check on delivery people. Make time to personally check routes. With a free paper, it's too easy for a delivery person to dump their papers in the trash and skip the route. Develop a list of business people you can call to ask if your papers were delivered to their establishments. Include a note in your paper that asks readers to call if they can't find today's paper. This will help you determine which stops need more papers in the future.

    9. Eliminate stops where only one or two papers are delivered. The more stops where you can deliver large quantities, the faster a route can be done. Remember, newspapers are a mass medium.

    10. Aim to complete deliveries by automobile before rush hour. Once people start crowding the roads on their way to work, delivery becomes much harder, and the productivity of your drivers declines greatly. If you need more time to deliver, negotiate an earlier deadline with your newsroom. Is your paper so time-sensitive that the current deadline is essential? What's more important -- getting that last West Coast score into your sports section, or delivering thousands more papers before deadline?
If you have other ideas on how to improve delivery, please e-mail me at