And the Survey Says. . .
Whoever said "consistency is a virtue" must have been
a Desert Exposure reader.
As Desert Exposure celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, even a casual observer could tell that the publication has changed dramatically. Just in the past three years we've been at the helm, Desert Exposure has grown explosively and changed extensively. Those changes, we like to think, have mostly been for the better—not just bigger.
But, though growing more numerous, our readers and their tastes have changed amazingly little during our three years doing Desert Exposure. Our just-completed 2006 reader survey—the fourth annual survey we've conducted, beginning with our very first issue in April 2003—shows a remarkable consistency with previous years, even though it netted the largest response to date. The consistency in those numbers from year to year at least gives us greater confidence in their validity; you couldn't possibly get results this similar from sheer chance.
So, sorry, there are no dramatic headlines to be gleaned from this year's survey—no blaring "Desert Exposure Readers Turn Savagely on Henry Lightcap." (That sigh of relief you just heard was Lightcap, learning he's been spared the editorial ax for another year.) Those annual column rankings stayed almost boringly the same: Once again, as in 2005 and 2004, this humble Editor's Note was the most-read regular feature. The Letters column, #2 in 2004 and #3 last year, was back at #2, followed by our 40 Days and 40 Nights events calendar (#3 in 2004 and #5 last year). Desert Diary continued to rank fourth, followed by the Continental Divide column (dropping a bit from #2 last year—I'd better give that Fryxell fella who writes it a talking-to) and Tumbleweeds (continuing a steady climb from its debut #9 ranking in 2004 and #8 last year).
All your other favorites fell in behind, pretty much as before, generally reflecting the popularity of their more specific topics, led by Arts Exposure at #7 and Larry Lightner's Ramblin' Outdoors at #8. (Don't worry, Lightcap—your column still ranked #9.) We were pleased to see newcomer Alice Pauser's Kitchen Gardener column make a strong debut at #10—especially impressive since it's strictly a seasonal fixture.
We also asked you to pick your one favorite among all our columns and departments. Here, Desert Diary and 40 Days and 40 Nights jointly rose to the top of the pack, followed by Letters, Tumbleweeds and Continental Divide.
For the first time this year, we added a question asking readers to pick three favorites among the previous 12 issues' lead features. This was not so much a popularity contest as a way to see what kind of stories you most enjoy—so we can try to do future features in that vein. Not surprisingly, perhaps, given the current immigration debate, the top vote-getter was our in-depth look at that difficult issue, "Borderline Insanity," published in October 2005 (can anyone say "ahead of the curve"?). Next came "The Quality of Mercy" (June 2005), about the trapping controversy sparked by James Oden, and "Seeing the Forest for the Trees" (March 2006), on Gila WoodNet. "Grande Reopening" by Jessica Savage (Sept. 2005), about the renovated Rio Grande Theatre, came in fourth, followed by "Fresh Ideas" (May 2005), our look at farmers' markets.
If you missed any of these, remember that they're all still on our Web site, www.desertexposure.com.
Besides measuring our readers' (surprisingly constant) column preferences and feature favorites, we also like to gauge your reading habits. Here, too, you folks are a model of consistency. More than 85 percent of you make it a point to pick up Desert Exposure every month or almost every month. But you're willing to share: As in past years, each copy of Desert Exposure gets read by almost two and a half people. That works out to about five hours of total reading per copy, since you're still averaging about two hours per reader per issue—a number that continues to amaze and humble us, given the sound-bite, USA Today-ized world of short attention spans we live in. Nearly 60 percent of you save your copy all month or beyond.
We also asked where you pick up your Desert Exposure each month, as well as where else you regularly shop. Responses to the first question fairly closely mirrored our actual distribution, with a slight bump from Las Cruces. (You folks in Deming need to be less shy about filling out our survey, though—we can tell you're reading Desert Exposure by the hundreds of copies that fly out of Pepper's supermarket each month alone.) Although we distribute more copies in Silver City than in Las Cruces, the number of Grant County residents who also shop in Las Cruces (as well as a respectable vice-versa share) means that Desert Exposure readers do business almost equally in both places.
We're also curious about what other area publications you read regularly. As in previous years, no single publication reaches more than half of Desert Exposure readers. Some 42 percent of you also read the Silver City Daily Press, about the same as last year, and 40 percent read the Las Cruces Sun-News. The latter represents a jump from 2005, reflecting this year's strong survey response from Las Cruces, as does the 35 percent score for The Bulletin. Overlap with The Ink, which was 46 percent in our very first survey, continued to plummet, dropping to below 23 percent. (Might we suggest that advertisers in The Ink, which now circulates well beyond the Las Cruces-Silver City-Deming market, ought to consider adding Desert Exposure to also reach the nearly 20,000 of our readers you're now missing?)
Also dropping a bit were the Silver City edition of the Sun-News, to 17 percent, the Deming Headlight (five percent) and the Sabroso dining guide, which now reaches less than nine percent of Desert Exposure readers. The Glenwood Gazette's overlap with our readership remained about the same, at 19 percent.
For the first time this year, we also asked if you read Silver City Life (only 19 percent checked yes) and the new Today's Woman 24/7, which evidently is getting considerably less than 24/7 readership, at just five percent.
Finally, we asked if you'd ever visited the Desert Exposure Web site (www.desertexposure.com) before, and only a bit more than one-third checked yes. That suggests our Web site—where monthly traffic has more than tripled in the past year—is reaching an audience beyond that of our print edition. (The opportunity to advertise on our site, however, remains limited to our loyal print advertisers.)
Beyond the numbers, we invited your comments about Desert Exposure, some of which we'll share in this space next month.
And, no, we didn't forget that we promised 10 survey respondents, selected at random, a Desert Exposure mug as a thank-you. Congratulations to Randy L. Clark, Hans Kruse, Bob Sexton and Beverly June Davis of Silver City; Accy Farmer, Joan Dodson, Charles Clements, Thomas Avalos and William Maxey of Las Cruces; and Melanie Pekarnek, a mail subscriber (and future Southwest New Mexico resident) from all the way out in Algonquin, Ill. To them and to all of you who took the time to help us fine-tune Desert Exposure, thank you—and we hope to continue to be worthy of your thoughtful attention.
David A. Fryxell is editor and publisher