Buy it from the newspaper

The (Charleston) Post and Courier runs a successful online store

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Newspaper companies know how to sell subscriptions and ads, but they don't necessarily think about selling their own merchandise. Go online to The Post and Courier store in Charleston, S.C., and you'll find all sorts of items that make money.

Browse local photo galleries for a keepsake. Order a book from Evening Post Books. Get a PDF reprint of the front page from a particular day or the page with the story on your business or restaurant. Check out the popular hats, tote bags, T-shirts and post cards sold under the paper's own Charleston Luv brand.

Merchandise from the total solar eclipse of 2017, when Charleston was the last place on the U.S. mainland where it could be seen, is still available.

And if you're a Clemson football fan, you'll want a National Championship poster.

"All of this is about organizing our content in a way that makes sense and is easy for customers," said Chris Zoeller, chief revenue/marketing officer for The Post and Courier.

The site, http://store.postandcourier.com/ is an aggregation of links to items that involve multiple vendors. It is arranged so potential buyers – who may or may not be readers – can find what they want, order it, pay for it and have it shipped without trying to figure out whom to call or what newspaper department to visit. Photos, post cards and prints all come from staff photographers.

"Merchandise is a big part of our strategy. It's an area we know we can grow," Zoeller said.

The online store has evolved over the last few years and continues to be updated. Clemson's 2016 National Championship focused the paper's attention on the revenue possibilities in posterizing staff photos and designing something suitable for framing. Selling the posters was one thing, Zoeller said, but rolling them up, putting them in tubes and shipping them proved more complicated and time consuming for the customer service staff.

When Clemson won the 2018 championship, the newspaper was better prepared and contracted out the rolling, tubing and shipping. Now, she said, The Post and Courier gets calls from other newspapers when their local teams have won a big game and they need marketing advice.

"We need to be thinking like retailers," Zoeller said. "Retailers are really good at marketing to you, especially if you've been browsing their site. They make recommendations. The promotion they do is great. For us, we had to learn to do better at marketing products in a way that made sense as a retailer."

She advises that there's more to online retailing than putting some links together. Questions that need answers ahead of time include who owns the brand or item, what is the best way to promote it, how will it be distributed, how will it be shipped, and how to estimate shipping and handling costs.

The newspaper isn't yet selling Post and Courier merchandise such as coffee mugs and glasses, but Zoeller said newspaper-specific items are on the way. In the past the paper has distributed such items occasionally at special events, and people always ask where they can buy them.

"We've always distributed our newspaper. But we haven't always distributed merchandise," Zoeller said.

For more information, reach Chris Zoeller at czoeller@postandcourier.com.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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