Thursday, June 30, 2011


Maybe arrogance is the answer for newspapers.

Recently I was outside a fast food restaurant and saw the USA Today newspaper rack. USA Today usually impresses me with its front page. It did again this day. I wanted to buy a copy for a story on the front page because apparently I was too lazy to use my phone app to find it.

There was one problem: I had no change. I could go inside the restaurant and get change, except for the fact I had no cash.

Maybe this is really why single copy sales are down - who carries cash (let alone change) anymore?

If only we could equip every news rack with a way to swipe a credit or debit card to gain access. I'd like to see the results. It's not totally unheard of. Some college campuses have a readership program for students. They swipe their ID cards to gain access to the local metro daily, USA Today and/or New York Times.

I mentioned this to a business owner in town.

"You'd lose money on every transaction," he said.
"Not if we charge $10 per newspaper," I quipped.

Understanding that I was joking, he said I was right. But it got me thinking. I'm not suggesting we charge $10 per newspaper. However, maybe we should consider upping the price a bit.

In what other business do you charge less than the product is worth.
This week we produced a 10-page A section, 4-page B section, 6 page C section and 8-page D section. That's 28 pages plus inserts. At 75 cents per newspaper, that's less than 3 cents per page. Where else can you get that kind of rate. I don't think 3 cents covers the raw costs of ink and paper, let alone transportation to get those newspapers to those locations on top of the salaries to produce it. And let's not forget overhead costs. Of course, advertising is supposed to supplement that cost. Obviously it doesn't.
Anytime you charge more for something, it ups the value of. Let's face it, if people really want it then they will pay for it. If they don't really want it, then we're wasting our time, right?

I say charge more for a single copy of the newspaper and charge for unlimited online access.

In a small town like this one, there are not many other means for a business to effectively advertise. So charge a little more for advertising, but not to the point it excludes many businesses.
I'm sure we happily pay more than many things cost from raw materials through production and delivery.
Perhaps we shouldn't be going around begging people to advertise and begging people to subscribe and begging people to visit our website. Maybe it's time to say to people if you want legitimate news presented in a fair, professional manner you're going to have to be willing to pay for it. If you want to reach your target audience, you're going to have to consider the investment associated with marketing.

I say this, but a paperwork error last year sent subscribers a renewal notice with the price of two-year subscription in the place of the one-year subscription. Subscribers balked at the notion, many calling to cancel their subscription if that were the renewal price.
Sticker shock will turn many away. For the news stand price, I say up it gradually over a two-year period. The same goes for subscribers, except make it a slight increase for current subscribers to renew and a notable increase for new subscribers (but still getting a far better deal per issue by subscribing).

If we were to implement this program tomorrow, my goal would be to have the current 75-cents per issue news stand price to be at $2 by this time in two years. For the subscribers, I would propose their renewal price to increase for a year subscription from $30 to $32 in that time. For first-time subscribers make it $35.
For the web, give print subscribers full access. Offer a web-only subscription for half the price. Allow one-time fees ($2 a week) for those who just need to peruse the website from afar a few times a year.

This would increase revenue (assuming there was no significant drop in subscriptions and single-copy sales or that it bounced back within six months) around $35,000 based on our circulation after numbers return to normal.
For ads, up the cost 20 percent gradually over the course of two years. I can't give good figures on that, except that I would assume given a drop in advertisers we would still be making at least 5 percent more a year than we did two years prior. That can't hurt.

People pay more for gas, groceries, coffee and alcohol. They do it while grumbling at first, but get used to it and continue anyway. Why not add news to that list?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osam bin-WHO?

I felt sick this morning.

Sick from dissatisfaction of what was expected of me - due in part of what some people think our readers expect from us.

Less than 24 hours ago, President Barack Obama announced Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces. Bin Laden was allegedly the mastermind behind (among many terrorist acts) the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that collapsed the two World Trade Center towers, put a hole in one side of the Pentagon and downed a plane full of passengers in a rural Pennsylvania field. The incidents that day forever changed our world.

Today, in the aftermath of this man's death, many are buzzing about bin Laden's death. This is a man who organized al-Queda, but has been hands off for about two years. Most agree that his death is not the end of our nation's war against terror. Perhaps it is the beginning of the end, but there is certainly still a long journey ahead.

His death has not changed our world, though. Not near the way so many things have changed our world. There were no U.S. casualties in the battle that took bin Laden's life.

Yet, on the dawn of bin Laden's death, my publisher (who is a rarity in that he came up on the editorial side to the publisher position), energetically insisted that all of our weekly newspapers come up with "local" coverage of this. He even went so far as to post breaking news to solicit comments and locate sources.

We've compiled the slew of elected officials' statements. Now we're to seek out local sources - local reaction.

I just do not feel this is our role as hyper-local, weekly, community newspapers. The announcement of bin Laden's death came late Sunday night. Our papers go to press Tuesday night. For me, my newspaper hits the stands late Wednesday afternoon and is delivered via U.S. Postal Service to subscribers on Thursday.

My prediction: by Friday talk of bin Laden's death will have dwindled significantly and by this time next week it will be just a fleeting thought. Within two weeks from now, it won't be talked about at all.

I agree with localized coverage on Sept. 11, 2001. It changed our thinking, it changed our lifestyles. It disrupted that day in everyone's life whether they were on the East Coast or Midwest.

This man's death does not disrupt our lifestyle. Troops are not being immediately withdrawn as a result. Almost nothing changes except a moral victory for the United States.

In some places, celebration erupted in the streets. A crowd gathered outside the White House. Impromptu rallies formed in Lawrence, Kan., and Columbia, Mo., where there are large populations of college students. In some places, people have pulled their American flags out the closet and hung them proudly. Others have put up banners declaring the victory.

But here, in the community my newspaper serves, little seems changed. I cannot find any more American flags than usual. I do not see any special signs or banners. This is the same town that has held half a dozen Tea Party rallies in the past three years. This town's patriotism is not in question. But like many small communities, it was exciting news last night. By noon Monday people had moved on with their lives. By Thursday, I doubt many here will care much anymore.

Had a group staged a rally, had people displayed extra patriotism or had more people been willing to talk about when I tried to do man-on-the-street interviews; I would gladly splash this on the front page.

One of our reporters said that newspapers are "a rough draft of history." True. But the draft is very rough if it's some redneck's uneducated opinion. Meanwhile, here, I have a full list of local issues that weigh readers' minds: pit bull bans, flooding issues and cost increases for curbside recycling among other things.

As a small town, community newspaper, we need to focus on documenting this town's history; not wasting time and space for something nobody seems willing to talk about. We are the rough draft of history for this community, not for the nation.

Sure, there are plenty of other angles to consider. I'm tracking down military service members from our community who will be headed to Afghanistan soon. Ideally I would find the family of someone who was currently over there. But with our deadlines, producing something worthwhile is going to be difficult as I'm already having a hard time getting known sources to call me back.

I digress.

Whatever this community wants to make a big deal of, I'm willing to print in the newspaper. Anything else just seems forced.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

By the numbers

To those who have ever grumbled about pay, layoffs or other general cuts in the newspaper world, I'm right there with you.

But have you ever sat down and thought about what all this costs?

Frustrated with the way things were going and sparked by my own entrepreneurial, I wrote out what I thought a newspaper should be: how it operates, how it fits into a small communities, etc.

After getting some general and specific concepts down, including a staff list and duties, I started putting numbers to it. I've been around the biz for a while, so I'm confident in my estimates for costs and revenue. I've built a business model that (with optimistic numbers) breaks even. Except I haven't figured in the printing cost yet.

I know, that's the obvious cost, but I don't know those numbers without some research. Salary cost was easy. I know what I get paid, have been paid, what others were paid and what I think they should get paid.

Circulation and advertising revenue figures were fairly easy, too. The wild card to me is printing. I can barely get it to break even without printing costs.

I'm not saying layoffs and other cuts are right or fair. I'm just saying this is harder than it looks. Start up costs are astronomical. Annual costs are surprisingly high. It makes me wonder how newspapers even worked to begin with, let alone stay open today.

I've got a little more respect for those in the HR/accounting offices and the decision makers. I'm going to continue to find ways to make it work and create a model. Suggestions are more than welcome. So are contributions for a start up.