News Libraries as Profit Centers - Survey Results

News libraries are transforming yesterday's news into tomorrow's revenues. Mining their archives, refining and repackaging content, and employing new technologies to sell old news in a variety of formats, news librarians and their newspapers have discovered a vein of gold.

Survey Summary

Out of 205 surveys mailed to newspaper libraries in the U.S. and Canada, 101 were returned for a return rate of 49%. Of those who returned surveys, 88% said that their libraries were involved in generation of revenue.*

70% received royalties from having their archives on commercial database services; 65% received revenue from microfilm sales, and 37% collected revenue from CD-ROM subscriptions.

22 respondents (24%) said that they had more than 6 months of archives on the Web. 10 librarians reported charging for Web access to their archives, while 12 respondents had their archives up, but were not yet charging for access. 32 respondents (32%) said that they planned to put up more than 6 months of their archives on their Web sites in 1997.

At most papers, although digital photo archiving (68% of respondents have digital photo archives) was the library's responsibility, the majority of photo sales were handled by photo or marketing departments (Photo Department, 50%; Library, 31%; Other, 19%).

However, fee-based reference was almost universally a library service with 64% of librarians reporting some form of research help to the public. Costs for this service and revenues from it varied widely from paper to paper.

The largest profits for libraries at newspapers accrued from archives on commercial databases, although some also reported hefty revenue from fee-based reference services. This survey did not measure staff time involved in the generation of revenue.

One byproduct of the survey was the following table showing average number of library staff for each circulation grouping.

Daily Circulation of Survey Respondents and Average Number of Library Staff for the Circulation Group

   Daily Circulation                                            Average Number of Library Staff

 13,000-44,882      11 papers            1.5 library staff                         
                                         per paper                                 

 45,000-55,400      11 papers            2 library staff                        
                                         per paper                                 

 57,000-78,000      11 papers            3 library staff                        
                                         per paper                                 

 80,000-103,648      9 papers            4 library staff                        
                                         per paper                                 

104,216-118,863     10 papers            4.5 library staff                         
                                         per paper                                 

120,000-160,000      9 papers            5 library staff                        
                                         per paper                                 

168,529-229,000      9 papers            6.5 library staff                         
                                         per paper                                 

238,886-285,000     10 papers            8 library staff                        
                                         per paper                                 

300,000-388,239     11 papers            11 library staff                         
                                         per paper                                 

400,000- 2 million  10 papers            21 library staff                         
                                         per paper                                 

*Three librarians reported that their newspapers have a policy prohibiting editorial departments from making profits. In these cases, royalties, etc. are handled by the business side. However, library staff are still involved in producing the revenues.

Electronic Text Archive

Primary Electronic Archive

Of those responding the to the suvey, 94% have an electronic text archive. The following are the major vendors represented:

Only three libraries reported that they are presently using a text archive linked to their digital photo archive. All three are using DiGiCol. However, others wrote of their plans to move to a linked system soon; two that were mentioned were T-One's Merlin and Vu/Text's Labrador product under development.

The following illustrates the beginning dates of electronic text archives. 1989 saw the most activity in archiving with 12 of the respondents beginning their text archives in that year.

1980-1985   1986-1991   1992-1997

 22 papers     44 papers     23 papers       

Staff time required for daily processing and enhancing for the electronic archive on a typical Wednesday varies widely.

2 hours (5       7 hours (5      12 hours (2      18 hours (3       30 hours ( 1    
papers)         papers)          papers)          papers)          paper)           

3 hours (7       8 hours (6      14 hours (1      20 hours (4       32 hours ( 1    
papers)         papers)          paper)           papers)          paper)           

4 hours (11      9 hours (2      15 hours (4      24 hours (2       38 hours ( 1    
papers)         papers)          papers)          papers)          paper)           

5 hours (5      10 hours (8      16 hours (2      25 hours (1       40 hours ( 1    
papers)         papers)          papers)          paper)           paper)           

6 hours (6      11 hours (1      17 hours (2      28 hours ( 1      64 hours ( 1    
papers)         paper)           papers)          paper)           paper)           

The percentages of processing and enhancing time are:

It's tempting to try to draw a correlation between the database vendor used and the time it takes to enhance each day. However, in many cases, the additional hours spent by library staff are in the processing stage (getting the paper ready to enhance), particularly if the paper has a number of zoned editions which is often the case on Wednesdays.

Commercial Services

Many of the papers in the survey have loaded their electronic text archives on more than one commercial service. The following are the major commercial online services on which the respondents'electronic archives appear.:

Respondents were asked how many of these same services were checked for quality control ( to make sure all stories and corrections made it into the database).

Comparing these responses raises concerns about how well we are checking newspaper databases for accuracy.

Of the papers surveyed, archives appear:

Royalties for Text Archives

Total Royalties for Text Archives on Online Services (excluding CD-ROM, microfilm and Web revenues) for one year (65 respondents)

$0-5,000  (18%)            $30,000-50,000   (6%)       $100,000-500,000   (17%)   

$5,000-15,000  (18%)       $50,000-75,000   (11%)      over $500,000   (3%)       

$15,000-30,000  (13%)      $75,000-100,000  (14%)                                 

Most Common Percentage of Royalties Returned to Newspaper as Revenues from Commercial Services (50 respondents)

under 10%   (   9% of respondents)      25-30%  (6% of respondents)              

10%-15%     (15% of respondents)        30-40%  (2% of respondents)              

15%-20%     (33% of respondents)        40-50%  (2% of respondents)              

20%-25%     (33% of respondents)        over 50%  (0 respondents)                

Do newspapers take in more from royalties on commercial online services than they spend in the library and newsroom on searching commercial datatabases? (67 respondents)

YES 52%    NO 48%

Are any portion of archive royalties returned to the library as part of the library budget? (63 respondents)

None 79%    Some 5%   All 16%

If part of a chain, able to search other papers in the chain for free or at a discount? (57 respondents)

YES 46%    NO 54%

Text Archives on CD-ROM and microfilm

37% of total respondents have their text archives available on CD-ROM through a vendor like Newsbank.

2% of respondents are burning their own CDs for in-house use.

Royalties from CD-ROM Subscriptions

$0-2500    (4%)            $10,000-15,000  (11%)       $35,000-50,000  (7%)       

$2500-5000  (21%)          $15,000-25,000  (14%)       over $50,000 (3%)          

$5000-10,000  (29%)        $25,000-35,000  (11%)                                  

Royalties from Microfilm

65% of respondents reported that they received royalties from microfilm. The revenue ranges for microfilm are:

$0-2500    (38%)           $10,000-15,000  (9%)        $35,000-50,000  (0%)       

$2500-5000  (22%)          $15,000-25,000  (0%)        over $50,000 (10%)         

$5000-10,000  (19%)        $25,000-35,000  (2%)                                   

Digitization of old clip files and microfilm

While several librarians reported that they were currently investigating clip file digitization, the only "yes " response that included a cost estimate was that of Bob Isaacs, at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Bob agreed to be quoted here about his project which began with the purchase of two clip image systems in 1989. Four full-time temporary employees were hired plus a librarian to oversee the project. They scanned seven days a week , and four years later had approximately 2 million clip images on disk. The cost was $250,000.

The survey asked if anyone was digitizing microfilm, and if so, how were they doing it? No responses were returned; apparently we're still waiting for affordable technology.

Digital Photo Archives and Photo Sales

Digital photo archive systems in use among survey respondents

Year digital photo archive system began

Number of photos archived daily on digital system

Who is responsible for digital archiving?

Plans for changing digital archiving systems

37 respondents (54%) said they planned to be using the same digital photo archive three years from now. However, 32 respondents (46%) said that they planned to make a change. More than a few expressed a desire to move to a system that linked text archives to digital photo archives. Also, some who were using Fetch were looking to move up to a more robust system.

Specific systems mentioned include: the upcoming Mediastream text/photo product (3 mentions); DTI products (3); Explorer (2); AP Preserver (2); Merlin (2); DiGiCol; MediaSphere, and SCC Mediagrid.

Archiving Graphics and Full Pages

17 papers are archiving graphics, with 13 of these saving in native format and 7 creating thumbnails. Five papers are archiving some full pages ( pagination images). One librarian noted that archiving full pages was done selectively; memorable cover pages or contest possibilites were the ones saved.

Who handles photo sales? (96 respondents)

Cost of photo reprints to the public (61 respondents) generally for color 8 X 10

Cost to other media and use of photos on Web sites

The most common answer to the question about charges for photos to other media was "It varies." (12 papers). Some said they based their charges to other media on circulation or ad rates. To other media, charges of $50 and up were listed by six papers; $75 and up, by five; and $125 and up, by four.

Four papers don't allow Web use of their photos and three said they had not set policy yet. One paper charges $20 for allowing photos on personal Web pages. Others have charges of $50 and up (5 papers) and more than $100 (3 papers).

Yearly revenues for photo sales

Probably because photo sales are frequently handled by other departments, librarians often answered "don't know" to this question or left it blank. However, 45 responses break down photo sales in the following manner:

World Wide Web

Text Archives on the Web

22 respondents (24%) reported having more than six months of text archives on their Web site. 12 of these are not yet charging for access to their archives. 32 respondents (32%) planned to put their archives on the Web sometime in 1997.

Many of those offering archives free noted that they were trying to decide on a pricing structure. Papers have to choose between charging a flat rate or charging for each full-text story retrieved or coming up with a combination of the two. They also are considering what to charge institutional users (schools, libraries, etc.) and if they wish to increase prices for those users who are not subscribers to the print product or who are not using the paper's Internet provider (in those cases where the paper provides this service).

Five of the papers in the survey who are charging for archive access are using the InfiNet/Knight-Ridder model. Users can search the archives for free and pull up headlines and lead paragraphs. For the full-text of a story, the charge is $1.50 for full-text of an article from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and $.25 per story for off-peak hours. At another paper, the charge is also $1.50, but you can get 10 articles a month for $4.50.

Some papers are experimenting with flat rates; one paper charges $4.95 a month for unlimited access. Another makes a distinction between personal and other use. The fee for personal use is $14.95 per quarter while businesses, organizations, or institutions may subscribe for $49.95 per quarter (limited to 5 users). At other papers, you must be a monthly subscriber to the paper's Internet provider service at costs ranging from $17.95 to $20.95 per month.

Five papers use InfiNet to do their billing, and the others had the billing handled by their own company or what seemed to be an Internet provider.

Not many librarians were willing to speculate about yearly revenues from Web archives. Most checked the blank that said "have no idea." However, three answers spanned quite a range: $1,000; $10,000; $25,000.

Librarians were more willing to guess whether archives on the Web would lower royalties from commercial online services. Out of 37 total responses, 12 (32%) said "YES" while 25 (68%) said "NO."

Web Sites

14 libraries were involved in maintaining their paper's Web site by sending copies of enhanced stories daily to be loaded on the site, while several libraries also checked links and provided other content for the site.

20 libraries are contributing to an Intranet at their paper or are actually developing it. At 13 papers, reporters are able to search archives via internal Web pages. Also library home pages provide links to in-house databases, library catalogs, how-to-guides, and Internet sites for journalists.

Only occasionally are Web pages being archived for posterity. One librarian out of the seven who replied that they were archiving Web pages said that it was not done on a daily basis, but the original sites had been archived.

Fee-Based Reference Service

64% of respondents to the survey offer some form of fee-based reference service. Of the respondents who do not offer a fee-based service, 12% offer some reference service free, 25% offer no free service, and 47% said "it depends." (Often free service will be offered depending on the question's difficulty and time available.)

Of the libraries which offer fee-based service, 11% offer only their own paper's article reprints available to the researcher on the electronic archive. 79% broaden their service to include not only articles available electronically, but also the paper's stories on clips and microfilm. Expanding their services even more, 10% include the above, plus research from books and computer databases.

81% of fee-based reference at the newspapers responding to the survey is handled by library staff in the library.

At 7% of papers, fee-based reference is done by a separate research staff, but in most cases this staff has ties to the library. 12% responded that their fee-based services is handled by "Other" which included the company store, news assistants, new business development, and information brokers.

Charges for Fee-Based Services

Charges vary tremendously among news libraries for fee-based services. Often there is a per hour charge, a charge for each article reprint or, in some cases, a per page charge.

Although the most common hourly charge for research was $60 per hour (11 papers), charges per hour ranged from $5 an hour to $125 per hour. Other popular hourly charges were $25 (3 papers), $30 (3 papers), $50 (4 papers) and $100 (2 papers). In some cases, the hourly charge was the minimum charge. One library charged different amounts per hour. The commercial rate was $50 hour and the personal rate, $30 per hour.

Article reprint charges also varied widely and often additional charges were added if the article was on microfilm or faxed. For article reprints, the most common charges were $5 per article (11 papers) or $10 per article (8 papers).

In some cases, this charge was for the first article with other articles costing less ($.25 to 1.00). Charges at other papers ranged from $.25 to $15 per article. In a smaller number of papers, per page charges were assessed, ranging from $.25 to $3.00 with extra charges in some cases for microfilm or faxing. Postage was also added to article reprint charges in some instances.

55% of respondents accept all forms of payment listed on the survey: credit cards, checks and cash. 32% do not accept credit cards. Many require prepayment.

Billing is most commonly handled by library staff although Accounting or Business handles the transactions at some papers. In a few papers, billing is shared by both.

Yearly Revenue for Fee-Based Services

Other Products or Projects Generating Revenue

Other products or projects creating profits for news libraries include sale of series reprints and repackaged stories, laminated copies of articles, front page reprints, posters, and recipe promotions. Book sales can be profitable; book types include those that are staff-written, including books by syndicated columnists and cartoonists, stock guides, travel guides, centennial publications, and state almanacs.

Rosemary Nelms, Commercial Appeal News Library

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Last Updated: 01/16/03
Jessica Baumgart
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