07-01-04 | Printable Version

Are the "Best Places to Live" Also the Best Newspaper Markets?

Not Necessarily. Competing Publications Are a Big Factor

 Is your city or town one of the "best places to live" in the U.S.? Regardless of whether or not your hometown made it into the top grouping of one of the many recent surveys, chances are you’re familiar with the current proliferation of “Best Places to Live” lists.

While the multitude of rankings all employ different mixes of criteria and analysis methods, their goal is the same: to identify markets that offer an exceptional quality of life for residents. However, are these top-ranked markets also great places to publish a daily newspaper?

Armed with a comprehensive ranking of top newspaper markets – DV&M’s Market Index – we wondered how well the “Best Places to Live” stacked up against the markets we consider to be the best places in the U.S. to publish newspapers.

For the purposes of this analysis, we compiled a cross-section of four recent lists: Monster.com’s “Best Places to Live”; Sperling’s “Best Places to Live”; Men’s Journal’s “50 Best Places to Live”; and Employment Review’s “Best Places to Live and Work.”

We compared these results to the DV&M Market Index’s top newspaper markets in the country, broken down by two population groups: greater than 100,000, and less than 100,000.

DV&M’s Market Index is a comprehensive system that ranks the attractiveness of newspaper markets by taking into account a broad range of critical factors. In addition to the newspapers’ household penetration, these factors include growth trends, demographic characteristics, the competitive landscape, and other subjective factors relevant to newspapers.

There are more than 150 factors that make up the DV&M Market Index, and all were identified through the firm’s 25 years of experience in tracking newspaper markets, as well as our close contact with the industry’s key executives involved in newspaper acquisitions. The scores range from 1 to 100, with a higher score being better, and 50 as the average and median. In the four tables showing outside study results, we display each market’s DV&M Market Index rank, which ranks each daily newspaper market in the nation between 1 and 1,457. A rank of 1 is best.

Of the top DV&M Market Index newspaper markets listed in the table above, only two appeared in any of the “Best Places” listings we consulted: Austin, TX and Raleigh, NC. These results would suggest that there are different criteria that distinguish a great newspaper market from a great place to live.

One of the major differences has to do with the measure of competition for advertising dollars in a given market. While this factor is critical to creating a great newspaper market – markets with little competition allow a daily newspaper to control virtually all print advertising dollars – the number of newspapers in a given city is relatively unimportant to the overall quality of life for residents. Similarly, while factors such as average rainfall and quality of park facilities play an important role in what makes a great place to live, it has little bearing on newspaper market quality.

As an example, Boston, MA scored top ten honors in the Men’s Journal “Best Places” study, but scored a 62 overall in our Market Index. While the market scored above average for growth and demographics, the overall score was pulled down by the market’s competitive score. Heavy competition between a number of metro and suburban daily and weekly publications make the Boston market less desirable than, say, Atlanta or San Diego, two other large “Best Places” markets that have above-average competition scores.

Of course, there are some criteria that are shared between both market tests, such as median household income, college and university presence, population growth and percentage of young adult residents.

The strength of these criteria contributed to the high rankings of the Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina markets, both in the “Best Places” studies as well as our Market Index.

Austin, the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” is home to the University of Texas as well as a concentration of high-tech corporations, including Dell Computers. It scored an 88 out of 100 and ranked number one in our Market Index, the highest overall score and rank of any newspaper market in the country. Scarce competition, booming growth and superior infrastructure were all contributing factors to the high score.

Just below Austin on our Market Index falls Raleigh, scoring an 88 and ranking number two. Ten colleges and universities are located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, including the University of North Carolina and Duke University. The residents of the area are well educated and enjoy affordable, plentiful healthcare options as well as low unemployment statistics. In terms of our Market Index, Raleigh shows very strong growth and demographic metrics, in addition to scoring high in our “Subjective” category that measures such factors as infrastructure and business climate.

Overall, each of the markets that scored well in the “Best Places” studies also scored above average on our Market Index. However, for the most part, there was a significant discrepancy between the “Best Places to Live” and what we consider to be exceptional newspaper markets. In our estimation, the critical components of a good newspaper market – strong household and retail sales growth, little to no competition and solid demographics, among others – are not as important to quality of life as factors such as low housing costs, low unemployment and an abundance of cultural activities.