By Paul Gillin | January 12, 2012 - 10:40 am - Posted in Newspapers

Two-thirds of Michigan households will be unable to get daily newspaper delivery after the end of this month, notes Alan Mutter in his column in Editor & Publisher. Michigan is only the most dramatic example of a quiet yet dramatic change that is sweeping the U.S. newspaper industry as publishers make the most painful cut of all and trim distribution schedules.

Newspapers on doorstepThe most visible manifestation of this trend is the experiment in Detroit in which the two major dailies, which operate as a partnership, cut home delivery to three days per week in early 2009. Mutter notes that the daily circulation of the Free Press and the Detroit News both fell by more than half between March, 2008 and March, 2011. Sunday circulation of the Free Press, which is the only game in town on that day, is down 21.6%.

Newspapers in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, and Jackson are set to scale back home delivery from seven days to three in February. The newspapers will still be published daily but will only be delivered to doorsteps on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. As in Detroit, publisher Advance Publications said the move is part of a shift to a “digital first” strategy. It’s also a cost-cutting measure, as evidenced by Erica Smith’s estimate of more than 360 layoffs.

Mutter notes that many other dailies have quietly cut back publication schedules. We heard the total was more than 100 two years ago, but no one tracks this trend to our knowledge. Reducing frequency is the last and most painful cutback to make, but few publishers have any choice as advertising revenues have dwindled by more than half over the last six years.

In the Michigan examples, publishers are still able to claim that there newspapers are “daily,” even though many fewer people read them. It’s notable that the economics of the industry now dictate that the biggest savings are gained from cutting back on delivery trucks and drivers rather than presses and paper. Trucker unions, whose bargaining power has been eviscerated by concessions over the last three years, have little leverage and can only hope to retain the dwindling number of jobs that are left.

We noted recently that forecasts that 1,400 daily newspapers could disappear over the next five years are perhaps not overstated. That doesn’t mean these titles will disappear from the earth but rather they won’t publish on a daily schedule. But does daily frequency even matter anymore? The daily newspaper as we know it was designed for an age when people consumed their news at the same time every day. Thanks to the profusion of computers in the workplace and smart phones in the pocket, people now access news whenever it’s convenient for them. The news organizations that survive will move to a “digital first” strategy with all deliberate speed. In that respect, the Michigan experiments may represent the leading edge of where the entire industry is going.

The most troubling aspect of the Detroit experiment is that circulation has fallen across the board, including the profitable Thursday and Sunday editions. This accelerates the death spiral in which circulation declines lead to cutbacks in editorial content, which spark further circulation declines. Newspapers that sacrifice their daily status are thus ever more pressed to move to profitable digital models.

Miscellany

Newspaper layoffs have created a lot of empty office space, so in Philadelphia they’ve come up with a novel experiment to put it to good use. Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News is hosting three media-related startups in space once occupied by staff journalists. The trade-off for the tech firms is that they must give Philadelphia Media an early look at what they’re building. The media company also hopes that staffers at the publishing company will learn a few things by rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurs who are focused on creating profitable businesses quickly. A similar experiment is underway at the Boston Globe.


It was only a matter of time before publishers started giving away e-readers in exchange for subscriptions. Barnes & Noble, which is struggling to compete in the tablet market against a newly aggressive Amazon, is giving away a free black & white Nook reader to people who buy a one-year subscription to The New York Times. Alternatively, subscribers can opt to buy a color Nook reader for $99, which is $150 below the retail price.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 12th, 2012 at 10:40 am and is filed under Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Comments

  1. January 12, 2012 @ 11:15 pm



    Surprise, surprise…

    The web sites can deliver news as it happens over the internet, but its too expensive to shove smudgy paper at people.

    If I was the owner of a printing press, I’d worry, for two reasons.

    If I was a printing press manufacturer, I’d have filed for Chapter 11 already. (And once they’re gone, their customer base can’t be far behind…)

    Good luck selling what you used to give away for free.

    But there is hope.

    Look at what Apple did to the music industry, what its doing to book publishing, what its doing to the movie industry, what it did for the phone, alone and then joined by Android.

    Distribute and sell your news via an app and keep the newest stories off of the web for up to a week. (The more specialized, the longer you keep it off and the more you can charge for your app.)

    And I still think that using the post office to store and access the RSS files and collect all the money would be a viable idea.

    Posted by msbpodcast
  2. January 13, 2012 @ 5:52 pm



    A dog not barking in this is that if there are 1400 dailies, there are also probably around 7900 or so weeklies already in existence. What happens when a change in frequency of one publication type brings it into more direct conflict with another type?

    In some rural towns, it’s probably not going to make much difference, but in suburban areas, for example, you might start to see an acceleration of dynamics which may be happening already. As far as I know, no one is tracking things down to that granular level. Yet another case is what happens when a major metro is faced with shrinkage to the point that it has to compete more directly with a healthy alt-weekly?

    Although there likely is no pat answer to any of this, it’s possible to imagine that a critical element may be how well you can make the online product complement the paper product and vice versa. Say what you will about dead trees and all, but each is a different medium, and you can still do things on paper you can’t do online– which has its own separate set of advantages.

    Posted by Perry Gaskill
  3. January 14, 2012 @ 4:57 pm



    I don’t see the news in all of this. So long as a paper publishes somewhere, somehow, in a daily fashion, it is a ‘daily’… Even if that is online, tablet, mobile, etc. So who cares the mode of delivery? Same news…same media company…same viewership. Who cares then? Many ‘papers’. Like the Times of Northwest Indiana, don’t even call themselves “papers” anymore, but rather media companies. ‘Papers’ are changing with the times.

    Of course, the argument can be made that 90% of revs are still print…but 2012 will see the only important test be implemented for basically the first time acrosss the market- paywalls. We have seen few full-scale paywalls done yet, and the results have been very good (FT, WSJ, NYT, and the most successful of them all, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette). By 2013, we will likely see the vast majority of papers go to paid content. Considering that newspapers make up the vast vast majority of wire content, non newspaper websites that post ‘free’ news via the wire will see onerous rate rises from the AP and others.

    Posted by Stephen
  4. February 7, 2012 @ 12:00 pm



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  5. February 16, 2012 @ 11:21 pm



    An open letter to Newspapers concerning firewalls.

    Hey Guys, did you really think this one through? Is it possible in all your brainstorming you missed something?

    Let me clue you in on something I’ve observered:

    People who have no money, don’t buy products or services. And one of the first products they ditch as un-essential is the newspaper.
    Decades of falling real wages have hastened the loss of subscribers to your newspapers, as people start buying things they consider essential to modern living. Cable and internet are higher on the list than newspapers because radio and TV can give them the “news”, which is why your internet presence is so important. And the more people you entice to your site, the more value your advertizers find in you,
    Outside of folks in the upper northeast, who buy the New York Times for news, the folks outside of that bloc read the Times simply as a decent read. Many of us cannot afford a subscription to our local paper, let alone to an out of state paper. -That low wage thing again. When newspapers point out, and demonize certain sectors because they might make a higher wage than the average worker within that state, or demonize organizations trying to improve wages and benefits, they are essentially killing their own gold egg laying goose -because people who have enough money for a luxury like a newspaper will subcribe, or buy from a stand. When wages fall, so do luxury purchases.

    Back when I made a few extra dollars, before inflation, high gas prices and my government employer froze their cost of living raises, (VA never funded their merit raise system) I used to buy the New York times, and the Washington post several times a week, and subscribed to the Daily Press and Richmond times Dispatch. Now, I do none of the above, like many other folks I know.

    I read many news papers on line, dropping those who erect paywalls I cannot afford. I find others to take their place.

    What I am saying guys, is that short of your local readers and the few who can afford subscriptions, is you are losing out. And those who buy subscritions? I doubt they will subcribe to more than a couple of newspapers ,eaning your customer base shrinks everytime a subcriber finds he has to subcribe to a free newspaper he likes better than yours. There is a finite pool of people willing, or able to subscibe.

    There are ways to attract people to a “free site” that will enhance your numbers, first and foremost is dont piss off your readers, by increasing pop up adds, drop down adds, video ads, scripts that slow the page loading – you lose advertizers as you lose readers.

    The decision you are one day going to be forced to make as you hemmorage readers will be, can we make a decent profit on our paywall because the other folks have left the site -permanantly.

    People who make no money, make no purchases, decreasing product revenues, decreasing advertizing value. It’s a vicious cycle, are you sure you want to contribute to the speed of the cycle? Put up paywalls, advocate low wages and right to work laws, support the conservative agebda that considers employees to be Human capital instead of people.

    That human capital soon drops luxuries -like newspapers.

    Posted by joe Mostowey