The last best category of advertising in newspapers is the distribution of FSIs, free-standing inserts — circulars and coupons — which by one account adds up to 30-50 percent of newspapers’ retail advertising (though retail advertising continues to plummet). The last, best reason to keep printing and distributing a newspaper is FSIs. When you see papers cut frequency of printing or distribution to a few days a week, those are not hot news days; those are the days that bring FSIs and their revenue.
I’ve been saying here for some time that FSIs will go away. About two years ago, I asked a big-box retailer that makes much money from its circulars (from charging brands for presence in them) how long it would be before the circulation of print newspapers would fall below critical mass. The reply: 24-36 months. Note how long ago that was.
A typical Sunday Oklahoman has maybe 110 pages of actual broadsheet; all the rest (except for Parade, I suppose) is FSI. The classifieds, once 60-70 pages, are now down to 16. I’m not sure what mass is considered “critical,” but I do know that thirty years ago, they were moving twice as many papers, and those papers were 50 percent thicker.