Beyond Print Toolkit: Print frequency and delivery

How to identify the right time, day, and approach for print publishing.

By Shannan Bowen

June 27, 2024

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The essentials

When it comes to evaluating product changes for newspapers, what works for one market may not work for another. Costs, market conditions, audience size, and a publisher’s digital readiness all account for successful frequency and delivery changes.

For publishers making tough choices about changing the frequency, timing, or delivery process for print newspapers, here are a few common questions to consider:

Which days should I publish?

The straightforward answer to this is, it just depends. For some news companies, Saturday editions have been the ones to eliminate first. McClatchy announced in 2019 it was eliminating the Saturday editions at each of its 30 publications and instead promoting digital replica editions on that day. In Wyoming, The Casper Star-Tribune stopped printing on Mondays and Tuesdays. Choosing these days wasn’t random for these publishers. Circulation and advertising revenue data, plus considerations about news cycles and readership behaviors all factor into choosing which dates to stop printing.

In Arkansas, WEHCO Media’s Democrat-Gazette prints only on Sundays, a move that has proved successful in part due to a strategy to convert most of its subscribers to digital products by loaning iPads as part of its subscription plans. According to an analysis by Medill Spiegel Research Center at Northwestern University, the news organization lost only 1% of its subscribers per month after the move. Publisher Walter Hussman Jr. told Medill’s Local News Initiative that he thinks a Sunday-only newspaper helps with converting more readers to digital Subscribers. “I think Sunday print is the smart way to go during the conversion because it probably helps with the conversion,” he said. “You get a higher percentage of people who are willing to do it.”

Which times are best for deadlines and deliveries?

Closing presses and outsourcing the printing of newspapers is hardly new for news organizations these days. As digital strategies take priority and print editions are published less frequently, many news organizations have found significant cost savings in selling the printing infrastructure and shedding associated costs. But, often, outsourcing has come at the cost of timeliness and relevance for next-day printed content. As Poynter’s Rick Edmonds explained, outsourcing and printing press changes have resulted in earlier deadlines, meaning coverage of major late-night championship games won’t make it into print the next day. “Of course, those who want timeliness have the option of going to the web or to e-replica editions, which can be expanded for a late sports story while still formatted like a once-a-day print product,” he wrote. 

Earlier deadlines could give publishers an opportunity to distinguish their print editions from the timeliness of web and replica editions, however. Instead of thinking of newspapers as publications for breaking news stories, publishers could consider publishing more in-depth, analytical stories in newspaper editions. For situations where there is a major event happening post-deadline for print editions, news organizations can consider utilizing QR codes or promoting digital replica editions for readers searching for timely coverage they may not see in print.

As for delivery times, publishers should study their digital readership metrics, such as times of visits, referrals by time and digital replica views, to consider how print newspapers can complement digital readership. By shifting content strategies to more in-depth coverage with fewer printed editions, publishers can offer a diverse mix of news products that complement one another with different types of information and experiences.

How can I save on print and delivery costs?

One way to continue print circulation but save on associated costs is to experiment with delivering by mail. When The Moab Times-Independent was donated to The Salt Lake Tribune in 2023, it was decided that it would be sent once a week by mail — to every resident in Moab Utah. The hypothesis was that the expansion to every household by mail, rather than carriers, would greatly expand the paper’s reach and, thus, the advertising value.

This use of mail for delivery wasn’t the first of its kind. According to Poynter’s Rick Edmonds, Gannett has transitioned more than 70 markets from carrier delivery to the USPS. Each year, the USPS receives about 100 applications for periodical delivery, and in 2023 more than half of those applications came from daily or weekly newspapers. Facing carrier shortages and staffing changes in 2021 and 2022, The Seattle Times also decided to experiment with delivering some of its newspapers — for just 2% of its subscriber base, to start — by mail rather than delivery routes. But one factor challenged the experiment: U.S. mail doesn’t run on Sundays, so subscribers in the test group couldn’t receive their Sunday papers by mail. Instead, the Times decided to create a Weekend Edition print newspaper, which was delivered by mail on Saturday and included content that also would have appeared in the Sunday paper. 

Still, the results weren’t as successful as initially expected. Some subscribers were unhappy with the weekend delivery change, and the Times experienced a 23% loss in print revenue among the test group. Though mail delivery is cheaper than carrier rates, publishers should monitor subscriber churn and advertising impact to calculate net savings or losses. According to our case study on the Times experiment, the team determined that mail delivery is a good option if carrier delivery is no longer sustainable in a specific market, but the savings did not offset the volume and revenue losses for all of their delivery markets.

What’s the best way to communicate changes with my readers?

Remember, it’s normal to hear pushback and concerns from readers when making changes to your print product. Keep in mind that your loyal, paying subscribers are used to receiving a print product that is familiar and reliably on time. Be open to their feedback and show them you appreciate it. Some news organizations write articles explaining the changes and outlining digital offerings and products that can fill the gaps when reducing print. Customer service teams are an important part of the equation, too. Publishers can include more capacity for customer support in the days surrounding changes and encourage team members to be accepting of feedback and helpful in explaining the changes and other offerings, such as e-edition products.

John Newby, founder of 360 Media Alliance, told Editor & Publisher that a newspaper he once worked with took the approach of being honest about the reasons for changes to the number of print days. “They discussed financials, finding carriers, newsprint costs, market trends and much more,” he said. “They treated their readers as family and conveyed the reason for the changes. At the end of the day, they lost very few readers and gained a ton of respect simply by being honest with their readers upfront about the reasons for the changes.”

Key indicators and tests

Though there is more information sharing across the industry about print reduction tactics and changes in newspaper delivery, news organizations should consider their individual market conditions and subscriber needs before making drastic decisions. As 360 Media Alliance founder John Newby told Editor & Publisher, changing print frequency is a “local decision” based on many local factors. While most publishers will see savings in printing costs, staffing and distribution costs, there are also challenges to consider. “But buyer beware, not all this newfound revenue will be realized if you haven’t factored in the loss of subscribers,” he told Editor & Publisher. “Depending on the market, this hit ranges from 2-3% to greater than 15%. Many will come back in the future, but there will be some short-term subscriber erosion.” When the Denton Record Chronicle reduced its print frequency to two days per week in 2020, the paper lost 10-12% of its print subscribers. It ultimately won back more than half of them. 

Publishers changing print frequency, or even the time of day or print delivery, will want to monitor their churn rates. Though the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette saw a low churn rate of about 1% after changing to a Sunday-only print model, that may not be the case for every publisher — especially without a solid digital transition plan.

As publishers study churn rates, they should beware that churn could be higher than normal at first, but they’ll want to see that rate decrease over time, particularly as they are successful in moving people to become digital-only subscribers.

For its experiment moving from carrier delivery to newspapers mailed to subscribers, The Seattle Times identified a test group representing all geographies in its market but only 2% of its subscriber base. They looked at these factors when selecting participants for the experiment: tenure of subscription, delivery satisfaction and subscription type (weekend, Sunday-only and 7-day subscribers). 

“We needed the insight of the behaviors of our core subscribers—that is, those subscribers that are within our core distribution area, long tenured, and paying high rates—to determine what the effect would be if we moved the entire subscriber base to mail delivery, not just those in more peripheral geographies, those that are less tenured, and those with less price elasticity,” said Curtis Huber, senior director of circulation and audience revenue, in our case study. Publishers looking to replicate this experiment should segment their subscribers to determine the best test group to help them understand impact.


From changing the frequency of printing to experimenting with mail delivery, audience feedback and research should be constant components of any plan. Just as The Seattle Times received feedback when it experimented with mail delivery, publishers should value the input from their loyal subscribers to ensure that changes meet their needs. Of course, it sometimes takes time for subscribers to get used to changes, but opening a feedback loop and addressing concerns can help ensure a lasting relationship. 

Here are a few additional resources for publishers that are navigating print product changes:

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