The McLean, Va.-based publisher launched the "Butterfly" initiative on Oct. 6 at the Indianapolis Star, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., and The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis. To prepare for the trial at the four papers, USA TODAY changed its daily production operations to package its national and international news and enterprise stories into a seven-day-a-week insert that is distributed to the four papers.
"This is another step in the re-invention of news that Gannett is uniquely positioned to lead," said Gracia Martore, president and CEO of Gannett, which owns USA TODAY and 81 local newspapers. "With today's announcement, we are bringing the power of these brands together to delight and engage consumers like no one else can."
Gannett said at the time of the launch that other newspapers would be added if the test at the four papers seemed successful. The 31 additional newspapers that will participate in the expansion will begin circulating the Butterfly edition in the first quarter of 2014. "We are thrilled by the positive feedback from consumers and advertisers in our pilot markets," said Robert Dickey, president of Gannett's U.S. Community Publishing division.
With national and international content coming from USA TODAY, Gannett's community newspapers will have more resources to devote to local coverage, Dickey said.
The Butterfly edition -- including material from USA TODAY's News, Money and Life sections -- typically contains about 10 pages on weekdays and as many as 22 pages on Sunday. USA TODAY Sports content is integrated into the local papers' sports pages. The digital version is also distributed with the e-edition of the local papers.
"This innovative content model create! s stronger, higher-value local products and extends the reach of USA TODAY to millions of new consumers. This also gives USA TODAY a print presence seven days a week," said USA TODAY President and Publisher Larry Kramer. "This is a unique advantage for us."
The distribution plan allows USA TODAY to include the circulation figures from the local papers to its own total. Alliance for Audited Media, which audits newspaper circulation, has given its approval to that practice. The 35 local newspapers that will be part of the Butterfly initiative have a combined circulation of more than 1.5 million on weekdays and more than 2.5 million on Sunday, the company said.
When AAM's latest figures were released in October, USA TODAY regained its status as the most widely-circulated weekday newspaper in the country. For the six-month period that ended on Sept. 30 -- the Butterfly edition wasn't circulated until Oct. 6 -- USA TODAY had a combined print and digital weekday circulation of 2.88 million. That compares with The Wall Street Journal's 2.27 million and The New York Times' 1.89 million.
USA TODAY's circulation improvement was largely attributable to 1.48 million counted in the paper's "digital non-replica" category, which primarily refers to mobile and tablet apps. USA TODAY's apps and their content are free.