The Beyond Print Toolkit

A step-by-step guide for newspaper operators to reimagine the role of print and build sustainable long-term success.

Across the United States local newspapers — from metro dailies to alt-weeklies and community publications — are making changes to their businesses that once would have been considered radical or a sign of decline: they’re reducing print frequency or even eliminating print altogether. 

The decision to fundamentally change the product that has defined the medium for centuries can be a difficult one, but it is essential to newspapers’ long-term sustainability. If properly managed, however, the transition beyond print can be engaging for new readers, empowering to communities, and the foundation for the long-term growth of your business.

That’s why The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and the American Press Institute created the Beyond Print Toolkit. The guide is designed to help local newspapers build engaged digital audiences, create robust new revenue streams, and reimagine the role of print — all while continuing to produce essential journalism that serves their communities. 

This guide covers the essential elements newspapers need to consider as they move beyond print. Each section below includes an overview of key strategies to understand, metrics to track, ideas for experimentation, and practical tactics for how to implement them into your workflows. There are case studies, templates, and samples throughout the Toolkit — including sample media kits, examples of call center scripts, and product development frameworks. The sections include:

• Communications

Customer service

Digital products

Print products

Digital revenue transitions

Print revenue transitions

Events and other revenue streams

Manufacturing and finance

Newsroom processes

Technology systems

The Beyond Print Toolkit is informed by publications who participated in The Lenfest Institute and API’s Beyond Print cohort, grant programs, and 2023 convening. Beyond Print is supported by an anchor donation from the Andrew and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund and additional funding from The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund. 

We’re planning to update the Toolkit regularly with new resources and case studies. Is your organization moving beyond print? We’d love to learn from you and share your work. Please email us with anything you’d like to share.

Communication plans

The transition beyond print marks a significant change for everyone who is involved with a newspaper — staff, advertisers and readers.

Successfully navigating the change requires clear and precise communication with all relevant constituencies. This section offers strategies and samples of successful communication plans.


Strategies for navigating tough conversations and keeping your subscribers up-to-date during a print transition.

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How to get buy-in from your staff and help them envision a future beyond a printed news product.

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Just because you’re losing printed ad space doesn’t mean you need to lose your advertisers. We’ve got tips for bringing current advertisers into the digital future — and securing new ones.

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Customer service plans

If newspapers want subscribers to join them on the transition from print to digital, they’ll need to offer guidance and support with thoughtful approaches to customer service. 

This section of the Toolkit shares practical tips for ensuring your customer service structure respects your subscribers and helps build trust amid a major transition.

Call centers

Preparing for a print transition means preparing your call center for an influx of questions and concerns. We’ve included sample scripts you can modify to fit your newsroom’s needs.

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Customer service representative capabilities

Empower your customer service teams to effectively represent your organization.

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User-friendly self-service options

Giving customers the freedom to modify their accounts at-will increases trust in your organization. Learn how to build a user-friendly customer service portal.

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Digital products

Digital product management focuses on developing products that center user needs.

This section provides an overview of key user experience principles that should guide how news organizations approach product development and shares frameworks for how to apply those ideas to news organizations’ most important digital products

User experience

Designing a great user experience begins with understanding the needs and behaviors of your audience. This section breaks down the fundamentals of user experience and the approaches you can apply.

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A website is a priority product for digital-first publishers — it’s the front door through which people enter to consume your journalism.

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Mobile / Apps

It’s no secret that nearly everyone uses a smartphone daily, so ensuring your website is mobile friendly is a must. Building an app for your news organization can also boost engagement among your core readers.

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Tablets / E-editions

Digital replica editions, which are often accessed on tablets, can bridge the digital divide and guide readers who have historically preferred print products to online content and subscription offerings.

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Email newsletters offer one of the most dependable ways to build and maintain direct relationships with your audiences.

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Product thinking principles aren’t just for digital products. As newspapers rethink the role of their print offerings, it’s critical that they apply the same user-centric frameworks to understand the role their print products can continue to play. 

This section of the Toolkit walks you through ways to rethink your print product based on the frequency of which it’s delivered and the time of day it reaches readers.

Reimagined print editions

Print may continue to have an important role for many news organizations, but as consumer habits change, you’ll need to adapt your print product to fit their media diets.

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Print frequency and delivery

How to use product thinking strategies to find the right time, day, and approach for print publishing.

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Digital revenue transitions

A successful print-to-digital transition requires digital revenue streams to offset — and ultimately replace — print revenue.

Robust reader revenue programs must be at the center of any publication’s strategy, and an outlet’s entire digital output should be focused on targeting relevant audiences, engaging them through products and coverage, and ultimately converting them to subscribers or members.

In this section you’ll also find resources on direct sold and programmatic advertising along with sponsored content and sponsorships more broadly.

Digital subscriptions: Website

Your website is the place where many readers will be converted to paying subscribers. This section includes strategies for how to best utilize your site to drive conversions.

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Digital subscriptions: Mobile apps

Creating an app for your newsroom requires time and resources, but it can also be a great way to continue engaging your most loyal readers.

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Digital subscriptions: Email newsletters

Email newsletters can help build reader habits, attract new subscribers, and deepen engagement with your current paying supporters.

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Digital advertising: Direct sold

Digital ad sales are similar to print ones, but website options are far more expansive. Make your seller education more comprehensive and consider new systems to deliver campaigns and report to clients.

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Digital advertising: Programmatic ads

Programmatic ads can help you sell extra ad inventory to national advertisers.

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Digital advertising: Sponsored content

Sponsored content is increasingly common — but successful operations require sales training, client education, clear ethical guidelines, and strong execution.

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Digital advertising: Sponsorships

Sponsorships are a unique way to package advertising to provide the client with closer alignment to a topic or program.

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Print is still profitable at many organizations — but that won’t last forever. News organizations must use the runway that print affords them to maximize their revenue while they can while investing in and growing their digital journalism, products, and revenue, which will be essential to their future. 

This section covers two primary elements of print revenue transition: circulation and advertising.

Print circulation: Delivery footprint

There may be a point in your print-to-digital transition when it is no longer profitable to continue to distribute print to certain geographic areas. Reducing the delivery footprint — while taking steps to retain these subscribers digitally — can lead to significant savings.

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Print circulation: Loyal subscribers

Long-term print subscribers are often newspapers’ most loyal consumers. As you plan a print-to-digital transition, you need to retain as many of those customers as you can.

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Print advertising: Pre-prints

Pre-prints are free standing advertising inserts in the newspaper, and even as print declines, these inexpensive ad options can still lead to revenue.

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Print advertising: Run of paper

Run of paper advertising has been in decline for most newspapers for decades now, but there are a few ways to squeeze the most out of this revenue stream.

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Other revenue streams

Publishers should seek out additional revenue streams — like events — that play into their strategic strengths and can be a key part of their post-print or print transition revenue mix.


Events provide an opportunity for publishers to redeploy some of their staff to support revenue streams that aren’t tied to print. As event businesses grow, there’s a need for sales, marketing, logistics, and even journalists to make them successful. 

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Other revenue strategies

Is your organization experimenting with other revenue strategies? We’d love to hear about it to include in a future update for the guide. Email us at [email protected].

Manufacturing and finance

Though it’s starting to change at many publications, a newspaper’s largest cost center is not its newsroom — it’s its printing, production, and distribution processes.

This section walks through the mechanics of how a newspaper is printed and distributed, including what you need to know about the growing solution of postal delivery. 

Manufacturing and distribution

In order to make informed decisions how the transition beyond print will affect your bottom line, leaders need to be familiar with every point of the printing and distribution process.

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Postal delivery

In response to inconsistencies with traditional carrier delivery, publications have begun turning to another partner to help solve their delivery challenges: The United States Postal Service.

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Coming soon: Printing and Distribution Financial Workbook

Coming soon to The Beyond Print Toolkit: A financial planning workbook to help you map out several print reduction scenarios.

Newsroom processes

Successful print-to-digital transitions are all about ensuring that an organization’s journalists can continue to produce important reporting even as the news business model changes.

This section of the Toolkit includes strategies for how newsrooms can define their value proposition and develop meaningful audience personas to help them serve their communities. It also identifies opportunities for how publications can develop new workflows and ensure your staff have the skills needed to thrive in a digital-first newsroom.

Audience personas

In today’s fragmented media landscape, you must understand the diverse audience segments that comprise your readership so you can best serve them with relevant coverage.

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Value proposition

Consumers are inundated with subscription options from all kinds of platforms and services. You must articulate a clear value proposition in order to build reader revenue through subscriptions and memberships.

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Content and workflows

Legacy print newsrooms face the critical challenge of transitioning from print-centric operations to dynamic, digital-first platforms — including a strategic re-evaluation of how to create and disseminate news.

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Newsroom capabilities

Your staff already has the traditional journalistic acumen needed to cover stories effectively, but helping them transform their skills to fit the digital future will equip your team produce compelling journalism and maintain robust subscriber relationships.

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Technology systems

As news organizations make product and workflow changes to enable their print-to-digital transition, they’ll need to ensure that their technology is able to support the changes. There’s a lot to consider, including content management systems, email service providers, payment processors, and security and data protocols.


The print-to-digital transition can be a valuable moment to revisit your overall technology strategy. This section includes tips for how to take stock of what you’re doing now and make necessary adjustments, how to think about staffing, and some specific guidance around the elements of a typical news organization’s tech stack that are directly relevant to this shift.

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Lead image by Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock