Here’s the Sunday night open line. With a “bonus” rumination on the newspaper business from someone who’s been in it in Arkansas for more than 42 years.
More evidence of the newspaper industry’s struggle to find its footing in the digital era came in the e-mail illustrated above. No, I don’t mean the Arkansas Times’ use of crowd-funding for special reporting projects, but, yes, that’s a sign of industry changes, too.
The industry-wide decline in advertising revenue has been hitting home at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s dominant print property. It had increased subscription prices sharply to compensate for revenue loss and, as it expected, it lost readers as a result. Maybe more than they expected, judging by the half-price offer going out to former subscribers that offers a year’s subscription — covering print and digital access — for $168 against the $336 list price. If you’re paying $336, maybe you could call to inquire about a matching deal.
The cut-rate subscription isn’t all.
Where Northwest Arkansas once had four daily newspapers in Washington and Benton Counties, it now has one, a regional version of the Democrat-Gazette.
Pass through a participating Sonic in Little Rock and you can get a free Democrat-Gazette with a cup of coffee.
You could always get their free weekly Sync at newsstands all over.
Another Times employee says he gets a free Democrat-Gazette with a small purchase at his nearby convenience store.
The Democrat-Gazette’s former absolute pay wall on digital access is now a “metered” version (as we use on the Arkansas Blog.) You get 10 free stories a month before they attempt to charge. Long before the metered pay wall came along, the newspaper, through its energetic on-line staff, was already posting a vast amount of material on-line for free.
Last week, the D-G implemented its plan to take two pages out of the daily business section by reducing stock listings. (They give them all and more on the digital subscription, which is a waste of space and time for digital readers. If you are digitally savvy, you are already following stocks of interest on customized pages on Yahoo and many other servers.)
A friend in the newspaper business also sent some notes from the latest Arkansas Press Association media guide:
The Democrat’s 2014 average weekday circulation was just 146,470, but closest to filing date in September, it had dropped 10,570 down to 135,900.
Two years ago, those numbers were 184,033 and 159,951 closest to filing date. I think these numbers include northwest Arkansas because there are no circulation figures in the directory for northwest.
The Sunday numbers tell a similar story: 217,047 last year (they told you this includes 50,000 free shoppers) and 267,849 in 2013.
Every 10,000 slide in circulation is a $1.68 million drop in 7-day subscription revenue, even at half price. For figures closest to filing date, the drops were were 24,000 daily and 50,000 Sunday.
The Democrat-Gazette is not alone, my friend writes.
Take a look at the APA directory: The Stephens papers in central Arkansas have lost at least 75 percent of their circulation the last 10 years — the North Little Rock Times 90 percent, down to 1,000. The others print a few hundred. Pine Bluff is less than half of what it was a decade ago, about 9,000.
For a time, D-G Publisher Walter Hussman was hailed as the exemplar of the new direction for newspapers — no free Internet access, higher subscription rates. People would pay for content, he believed (and he did and does deliver a newspaper bigger and better-staffed than most if not all similarly sized newspapers). But now he has a free weekly, 50,000 free Sunday papers given to people whether they want them or not, free papers at Sonics and C-stores, cut-rate subscriptions and some free Internet access.
Us? We struggle. But after 41 years, we’re still in business. The Times has remained free in print, has a metered paywall for access to the Arkansas Blog and a subscription for full access. Like everyone else, we’ve experienced a downward trend in gross ad revenue. We’ve adapted with new publications, special events and a broadening digital presence. But our life has always been a struggle that starts anew every day, week, month and year. And we are more exposed to advertisers who’ll take out their ire on us by not advertising, even when we’d be a good buy. (Calling Jim Walton.)
Legacy newspapers once had it much different. They were akin to public utilities. People had to buy them for obits, classifieds, TV listings and the football scores. Advertisers flocked there for newspaper dominance in eyeball exposure. Once monopolies were established, profits flowed at heady rates — 30 to 40 percent returns were considered par. Cable TV, Internet, Craigslist and changing tastes, particularly among younger readers, disrupted that.
So welcome to Sonic. Would you like a free newspaper with that cherry limeade?
I just want to say this to the occasional sorehead in our comments threads: We’re not the only free throwaway in town anymore.