Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Newspapers are in free fall

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Big reaction to our front-page article last week about the senior citizen in Lake George who is paying $765 for The Post-Star. (She phoned to thank me for putting it in the paper and said that she cancelled her credit card and got a different one “because I don’t trust The Post-Star” not to keep charging her.

At last count there were 167 comments on our Facebook page with a gamut of opinions.

Many people expressed outrage and offered specific advice. (Check the glensfallschronicle Facebook page.)

One thing that stood out to me was the wide range of prices people said they are or were paying for The Post-Star. Many said they got a lower price — sometimes much lower — by bargaining hard for it.

That’s not unique to The Post-Star.

A few months ago, The New York Times sent us notice of a big price increase for our strictly digital subscription. I think it was going up more than 20 percent.

I asked our kids what we should do. They both said immediately, “Cancel it.” One added, “They’ll come back with a lower price.”

That’s exactly what happened, quickly — and the price they offered was lower than what we’d been paying before! Similar situation with the Washington Post.

The Times we signed up for again. The Washington Post we haven’t yet.

Our kids make the point that Big Media doesn’t want to lose a subscriber because chances are they’ll never get that person back. Plus, their costs are so low for a totally automated digital subscription that it can be worth their while to sell it for almost nothing.

The reality is that the newspaper industry is in free fall. So many people aren’t buying the product anymore.

Last November, Alabama’s three biggest newspapers stopped printing and went strictly digital. (I’m wondering if that’s Lee Enterprises’ plan for The Post-Star and Lee’s many other papers.)

Ten years ago, Alabama’s big three papers sold 260,000 copies a day, said a news story at the time. By this year, their combined paid circulation was 30,000.

All three are owned by the Newhouse family’s Advance Publications in New York City whose swanky Condé Nast division publishes The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Bon Appétit.

Do you suppose Newhouse might have lost connecton with the Alabama readers of its Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and (Mobile) Press-Register!?

The problem isn’t unique to Newhouse.

Yes, lifestyles have changed, people read less, many jettisoned not just newspapers but the news — yet I think many publications make their situation worse by disdain for their audience. The result? Many people not only don’t read the local newspaper, they loathe it.

I don’t presume The Chronicle itself will survive. All news media are fighting for relevance and viability. I’ve long told our staff, The Chronicle is either essential to our readers or unnecessary. Increasingly there is no in-between.

Amid newspapers’ bleak finances and growing desperation, they try to cut costs drastically and raise revenue any way they can — perhaps even by gouging loyal, unsuspecting elderly readers for every possible dollar for subscribing.

Frankly, the way some of these businesses operate, destroying the bond and the brand, I see no way they’ll regain their audience and advertising. It seems astoundingly stupid.

But then I wonder if I’m missing the forest for the trees. Maybe it’s not the marketplace they’re banking on. Maybe it’s the government.
In the name of “save the free press” and “save democracy,” will government bail out the media? What so many people stopped buying, will the government make them pay for anyway, in taxes?

Copyright © 2023 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved

Check Also

CEO of Protect Our Winters

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor Harvard and Queensbury Class of 2001 grad Erin Sprague …