Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Detroit Newspaper Has Sad Event

Increasingly, the idea of going out in your front yard to get a newspaper in a plastic bag that is littering, is outdated before it hits the grass, and you paid for, seems ridiculous. It appears I am not alone as circulation for such publications are decreasing dramatically and advertising revenues shrink. The only ones who seem to be slow at "getting it" are the newspapers themselves. That finally seems to be changing.

I grew up in Michigan at a time in which some of my neighbors received the Detroit Free Press daily, while others got the Detroit News. Some even had the morning or evening edition. My father liked the Free Press in the evening. We even received the Daily Tribune which focused on Oakland County. Now the only real player in Detroit newspaper news is the Free Press (they have had a marketing agreement with the Detroit News for around two decades) and it made an announcement that would have been unheard of a decade ago, but seems long over due today.
Paul Anger, Editor of the Detroit Free Press wrote:

"The newspaper industry can identify with the American auto industry -- we have important products and similar emergencies that demand bold, immediate action. The transformation announced Tuesday by the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit Media Partnership is such an action, unique in the country. Some newspapers have reacted to crushing business realities by not publishing on certain days, or drastically slashing their news-gathering staffs, or exploring outsourcing of local reporting and editing jobs overseas -- or all of the above. The Free Press chooses a path not traveled."

With that eloquent introduction I expected something really big. Anger, unfortunately, disappoints. Their description of the up coming changes are filled with hyperbole, but not much substance and certainly not the paradigm shift that is necessary for tackling the onslaught being brought on by the Internet. Even as Anger details the heart of the changes, it is done in the context of inevitable defeat, stating "we do not make these moves lightly. We know that delivering the Free Press to homes three days a week -- Thursday, Friday and Sunday -- instead of seven will disrupt many breakfast-table routines. Fact is, though, those routines have already changed as many people tune in to the news by laptop or cell phone." In sum, since your not missing the newspaper, why deliver it seven days a week? The likely retort to this is, if that's the case, why deliver it at all?

The new Free Press encourages you to take action, pointing out that they are "offering a digital subscription to the Free Press that combines both worlds -- a way to go online and see the newspaper pages, including ads, exactly as they appear in print. You can sign up at freep.com." Unfortunately, the new Free Press -- like the old -- is anything but free. Unlimited monthly access is $12.50 a month. Unfortunately, that goes against the prevailing trend that has made the Internet so popular. People don't want to pay for such content and because of competition, typically don't have to.

Following these few details, Anger serves up a great deal of information on the research that went into the decision. This includes surveys, consultants, and other methodologies to assure us that this decision is in all of our best interest. In the end, Anger's well written document makes one conclude that the writing is already written on the wall for traditional media. The Free Press' current efforts are only trying to slow down the ink from drying.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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