Sunday, March 07, 2010

Post-Star 100 percent closer to oblivion

Unlike many technophiles, I take no joy in the demise of newspapers. Aside from NPR, newspapers still account for 98 percent of the serious daily journalism in this country, despite the industry's well-documented problems. In much of rural America, the newspaper is the only source of local news.

At the same time, many newspapers waste no opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.

I noticed a sign in Stewart's yesterday that The Post-Star was doubling the price of its daily edition to $1, effective the end of the month.

So some business genius thinks the antidote for declining circulation is a 100 percent price rise. The solution to falling demand is to raise the price?

As quality has plummeted dramatically during the decade or so of Ken Tingley's managing editorship, the price, once 35 cents, has nearly tripled.

This is what is known as self-cannibalization.

Despite my issues with the paper, I've spent 50 cents, 6 days a week for most of the last several years buying it at the news stand. So if publisher Rick Emanuel is reading this, he should know that the 100 percent price rise is likely to make me a former customer. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I don't want Glens Falls to become a zero newspaper town but the paper's business and editorial leadership seems to be taking it in that direction.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ouch. There goes their Black Brook market.

Mark Wilson said...

Probably not directly related, but hard not to infer some connection between the Post-Star's policy to restrict letters to the editor to print and subscription e-editions—implemented last month—and the doubling of the newsstand price.

Instead of accepting the reality of the new media landscape where circulation-based revenue has been dramatically curtailed, it seems that the P-S is engaged in a race to the bottom with their readership: in effect they are getting information out to fewer readers while at the same time charging them more. (One would hope the quality of the content is doubling with the concurrent price increase).

Actually, I just noticed that despite the new letters policy, the P-S web site has three new LTEs (one dated March 4, and two from yesterday). Either they are already modifying their ill-conceived policy, or they're still trying to figure out the internets.

Also—a minor gripe, I know—but isn't 100% close to oblivion. . . oblivion?

Brian F said...

Mark, you are right and normally my math degree instincts would prevent me from saying something like that (why I hate the sports cliche "He gave 110 pct"). But it's intended to integrate the price rise into the headline. Whenever someone else raises prices, newspapers always put it in the most dramatic percentage terms possible but when they themselves raise prices, it's "only" an extra x cents or whatever. It's also a spinoff of this post.

Brian F said...

Also, I think they've modified their online LTTE policy so that they don't publish them online on the same day as in print. I think they're doing it with some local news articles too.

I agree with the race to the bottom analogy and you know as well as I that they're not doubling the quality. Ultimately, they're going to make their website meaningless. The main things that make the website worth going to are becoming print only. There are a million places you can go to get wire stories, national columnists and sports scores. Are people going to keep flocking to the site just to read the urinal vandalism and public urination blotter? Their blogs occasionally have decent stuff and are now the only reason I visit the site. I and other websites used to drive traffic to their website by linking to news stories we commented on, but now that's no longer a possibility.

Mark Wilson said...

Re: the header

Given their delayed letters policy, I'd have gone with "A Day Late and a Dollar Too Much."

Mark Wilson said...

here's a link to a blog from the Knoxville (Tennnessee) News Sentinel (of all places) commenting on the Glens Falls Post-Star's new online policy. Some of the comments are hysterically funny.

Anonymous said...

So Westminster Kennel Club Best-In-Show winner Don Coyote sent an e-mail to newspaper editors across the country, announcing the Post Star's new policy limiting content on its website and soliciting feedback on the experience of other newspapers' web practices. Somebody posted the error-studded email on the website of the Knoxville News Sentinel (receiving an impressive number of comments). From there, the email spread across the ether: Oklahoma, North Dakota, Illinois (scroll to the bottom of this link), and God-knows where else.

Message to the Post-Star: If you're going to send out a plea to editors around the country to help you understand new media, make sure you keep a few old media copy editors and proofreaders on staff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for breaking this news, Brian and Mark. I read the Post Star every day and I've yet to see a note on this price rise. Nor have I see a word in Tingley's editor blog. Guess I learn more about the Post-Star from the blogsphere than from the paper itself.

Mark Wilson said...

Post-Star online letters-to-the-editor update:

The three letters that were posted on the website since the new "print and e-edition only" policy was announced a month ago have been removed. All is right with the world.

Though you have to wonder why they even keep a button link to the letters page (and still accept letters to the editor online—seems a tad inconsistent).

Still no mention of the price hike, though. Are you sure that Stewart's sign wasn't referring to some other Post-Star, Brian?

Brian F said...

Removed? Hehe... looks like somebody reads this blog.

Anonymous said...

money bet on when the price is announced in the paper and by who. I say Tingley on sun.

Mark Wilson said...

This is definitely a case of the pot calling the kettle black (I misspelled "gem" in the last game of scrabble I played—and will ever play), but I couldn't help but notice that in the link above to Mr. Tingley's blog post (where he admits to letting go the newspaper's copy editors and proofreaders after the latest budget cuts) he consistently refers to "proof readers." Even in the header.

I think Mr. Tingley needs to update whichever style guide he's using. Or not using, as the case may be.

Brian F said...

Anon, I think the price rise goes into effect Monday March 29, so I'm guessing my bet's on it being in Tingley's managing editor column the day before.

GG said...

Lee Enterprise's other Pulitzer.

The troubles with the Post-Star's corporate parent, Lee Enterprises go back to its purchase in 2005 of Pulitzer, Inc (a midwest newspaper holding company, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch among others, and no relation to the Pulitzer Prizes). The takeover cost shy of $1.5 Billion. (see the Lee news release at http://www.lee.net/newsreleases/news-2005-01-30-pulitzer.shtml)

When the recession hit a year and a half ago, there was still a large amount due on the financing of the deal. With hundreds of millions due last February, the company refinanced, extending their deadline until 2012.

Here are the highlights of the restructuring agreement from Lee's press release:

Key changes to the bank credit agreement include:

Significant restructuring of the timing of mandatory principal payments under the term loan:
— Remaining payments in the fiscal year ending September 27, 2009,
are reduced from $54.9 million to $22.1 million.
— Payments for the 2010 fiscal year are reduced from $166.3 million
to $77.8 million.
— Payments for the 2011 fiscal year are reduced from $261.3 million
to $65.0 million.
— Payments prior to the April 28, 2012, maturity for the 2012 fiscal year
are reduced from $166.3 million to $70.0 million.
— Payments at maturity will increase to $502.5 million from $83.1 million.

(you can read the whole release at: http://www.lee.net/newsreleases/news-2009-02-19-financing.shtml)


$502.5 million due at maturity in 2012 might help explain why the Glens Falls property is raising its price.

Anonymous said...

2012, huh? They should have heeded the ancient Mayan prophesy.

Brian F said...

Don't miss today's print exclusive: "Warren County Sentencings and Pleas"!!

Mark Wilson said...

The price increase is going to create such a shiessesturm of outrage (judging by reaction to the Times-Union's 50% price hike in Dec. 2008—to 75¢) that I cannot imagine they wouldn't give at least a week's lead time to the announcement.

So if they haven't already revoked the increase, I would guess Tingley will announce the price "enhancement" next Sunday.

Mark Wilson said...

Brian,

While I will believe the fifty cent price hike when I see it—I don't doubt the sign you saw in Stewart's but I just cannot believe someone with an ounce of sense won't step in at the last minute and save the organization from such a harebrained and self-destructive move—I am beginning to understand that such actions and the corporate desperation that they signify are just the opening phase of the next chapter of our nation's credit depression.

Chapter 2: Corporate Debt
Today's New York Time's web site is currently running a story of the massive amount of deferred corporate debt that is coming due in—you guessed it—2012. This link should lead to the story.

Sadly, it looks as though a $1 newspaper may only be the beginning.

On another tangent, the starvation staffing of the paper is really beginning to show. I notice that they have posted recent days' letters (second time in just over a week) despite their new print only policy. When coupled with the firing of their proofreader and copy editor (basically quality control functions), it's a bit like watching a not terribly nice uncle losing his faculties. Ultimately, the appropriate response is just sadness.

Brian F said...

Pew Research (via Columbia Journalism Review) reports that since 2000, newspapers have lost roughly 30 pct of their reporting and editing capacity.

Interesting, if grim, reading.

Brian F said...

Publisher Rick Emmanuel announced the price doubling in a small note on the front page of today's edition.

Mark wins the prize for the closest guess: a free one-year subscription to MOFYC... though I may double the price after that. =)

Anonymous said...

Maybe they should put it under the "what you missed in print" part of the web page. ;D

Brian F said...

Anon, I didn't appreciate your humor. It made me snort soda out of my nose almost ruining my keyboard. =D