As I have written before, there is a seismic shift going on in the newspaper publishing industry, and these trends have impacted your state Baptist paper.
Newspapers that once commanded hundreds of thousands – and in some cases millions – of paid subscribers now have dwindled to a shadow of their former selves – with some no longer in business.
While there is a definite and measurable downward trend in subscribers to state Baptist newspapers, it is too simplistic today to measure the reach of your Baptist newspaper only in paid subscribers. Let me explain.
In the 1990s when the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) had about 35,000 paid subscribers, there was no such thing as Facebook, Twitter or much of a website readership presence. Therefore, if you received news from the ABN, you pretty much had to subscribe to the print edition, which was mailed to your door every edition.
Now let’s fast forward to 2019. News and information are literally everywhere, and much of it is free via a variety of platforms aforementioned.
Today, the ABN has about 14,000 paid subscribers who have the newspaper mailed to their home or church every two weeks. They are what I call our “faithful supporters” who still want to hold a newspaper in their hands. These readers personify and contextualize what is going on in Arkansas Baptist life.
But that’s not the whole picture. Especially since the launch of a digital edition in late 2010 and an aggressive strategy to provide news and information to all Arkansas Baptists whether they have a paid subscription or not, the ABN’s readership reach actually compares favorably to those numbers in the mid-1990s.
For example, a random 30-day sampling of the online readership/viewer analytics of the ABN’s website and social media platforms reveals that 30,625 people accessed them. When this number is added to our paid print subscribers, it totals 44,625.
What’s more, the newspaper industry has long utilized a 2.3 multiplier standard on subscriptions to estimate total readership. When the 2.3 multiplier is applied to the mid-1990s paid ABN subscribers, it balloons to 80,500 readers. When the 2.3 multiplier is applied to 2019 paid subscribers, it totals 32,200 readers.
But, of course, in the mid-1990s there was no outlying factor of website and social media platform readership. So if you add the multiplier readership with readership numbers from web and social media in 2019, the total estimated readership of the ABN balloons to 76,825.
“Impressive,” you say, that’s a lot of people reading the ABN! Well, as your editor, I would love to believe that, but it is a bit more complicated.
These numbers simply cannot be accepted at face value. There is, of course, some duplication of people who receive a print edition and also access Web and social media platforms. However, even with that taken into account, today there are potentially a lot of folks reading and accessing the ABN in one form or another.
And something very important needs to be pointed out while we are on this subject of readership.
It is not all about numbers; of course, it’s about the impact of a publication like the ABN, which is accessed in many forms, and its ministry to Baptists in Arkansas.
Unlike what some think, while the ABN is the official news journal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, it isn’t its official voice. That’s the role of executive leaders, program staff and convention communications. The ABN’s role is to report on their activities using the tenets and ethics of professional journalism.
It is the way Arkansas Baptists have done their business for more than 100 years and has worked well, serving the interests of grassroots Baptists, convention entities and the convention itself.
While there are immense challenges to shifting the ministry of the ABN from its legacy print subscription model to be sustainable for the 21st century and beyond, I am committed to doing so with the help of Arkansas Baptists.
We love our churches, our associations, our convention and their leaders. But most of all, we are committed to the cause of Jesus Christ and making His name known throughout the highways and byways of our great state, our nation and the world.
May God continue to bless the efforts of Arkansas Baptists and give us the wisdom, discernment and commitment to carrying out His mission boldly, unashamedly and with abandon as we attack the gates of hell sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.