The Asheville Citizen-Times last week quietly increased the price of a single copy of the newspaper from $1 to $1.50. (The Sunday newspaper costs $2 last time I checked.) There was no announcement from editor Josh Awtry, the newspaper’s acting publisher in the wake of the former editor’s departure, who so earnestly promised complete transparency more than a year ago.
There was no trumpeting of additional content, no promises of hiring additional staff with money made off the increase, nothing because Awtry and the newspaper’s corporate owner, Gannett, know they’re are fighting a losing battle. It’s a simple fact that steep price increases drive down the sale of single copies of the newspaper.
That’s troubling, because the newspaper company still relies heavily on the sale of print advertising, print subscriptions and single copy sales for revenue. Also, most readers of newspapers still consume the product in print. In terms of advertising, most newspaper also comes from print, although there’s been a steady drop in print ad revenue even as digital ad revenue increases, but not fast enough to make up for the losses.
The Citizen-Times instituted its first price increase in decades in 2008, going from 50 cents to 75 cents per issue. That was a period of steep decline of the newspaper industry. Newspapers really began seeing the results of a lack of a strategy for how to make money online. The Great Recession in the U.S. compounded those revenue losses, and Gannett and newspapers around the country began taking desperate measures. In Asheville, there were mass layoffs, more price increases and the creation of online “paywalls” to begin making readers pay for content they had, for years, received for free.
It all adds up to major losses in print circulation, as the Citizen-Times seeks to squeeze every last cent out of its few remaining print loyalists. How long can this strategy last? NiemanLab.org took a hard look at the question of newspaper pricing strategy in this story by Ken Doctor. A snippet:
What’s happened in newspaper pricing is that too many publishers have doubled their prices while halving the size, and quality, of their products. I can’t think — nominations invited — of other industries that have done that with longer-term success. It’s like selling a 20-ounce bottle of Coke for a buck — and then three years later hawking a 10-ounce bottle for two dollars.
The strategy isn’t sustainable. I’ve already heard from numerous readers who plan to drop their Asheville Citizen-Times subscriptions because they’ve had it with higher costs and a diminished product. At some point, the newspaper is going to have to go all in on a digital strategy. Until then, it’s all simply a matter of diminishing returns.
Will the quality go up 50%?
Newspapers are so 1987. I get my news via Twitter.
Already most of the content of the Citizen-Times is USA Today (which can be accessed for free online). The rest of the “paper” is a smattering of local news, most of which overlaps other free sources such as MountainXpress or local blogs such as this one. So, what exactly is one getting for the $1.50 (or, for that matter, from a regular or e-subscription)?
I wonder if The Greenville News (South Carolina), another Gannett newspaper, will undergo a similar price increase.
A 50% price increase does sound pretty egregious, but in this particular case it actually doesn’t bother me much, if at all. I’d be very curious to see how many individual copies of the paper they actually sell, and even more curious to know how many are sold to non-tourists. If you want to read the paper and live in this town, you’d be an idiot to buy individual copies rather than subscribe. If you don’t want to read it regularly and are just buying an issue because your kid’s in there, or they wrote about your gallery show, $1.50 and $1 are effectively identical prices. The problem is that this change *looks* horrible and greedy, but in reality it probably won’t increase their income by more than a few hundred bucks a month. If subscription rates go up another 50%, that’s a completely different story . . .
Egad. The infamous and unwise one-time revenue grab at the expense of the entire operation. Do they need a stock prop or more money for the suits?
Did the gas station call you when they raised the price of gas? How about your car dealer? Did he/she call to tell you this year’s model costs more than last year because the cost of production went up? Nope. They just started charging higher prices. News isn’t free. Neither is advertising. Production costs go up every year for everyone. And, I read two newspapers this morning as well as my digital news feed and social media. Knowledge isn’t cheap. If you want it, pay for it.