Can’t see the forest for the dead trees

David Carr has a funny yet tragic column today summing up the penny-pinching can’t-see-past-their-noses problem with newspapers today.

About a month ago, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis let it be known that, as a cost-cutting effort, free copies of the newspaper would no longer be broadly available around the newsroom.

Instead, the staff was offered an electronic edition of the paper — “an exact digital reproduction of the printed version,” no less — that they could access online. Those who insisted on seeing the fruits of the their labors in its physical form were told that they could purchase copies for 25 cents, half the retail cost, from boxes around the office….

Last Monday, the going got weirder. Star Tribune reporters who came to work and booted up were greeted by the following message from Steve Alexander, senior vice president for circulation, who had been spending time researching the program’s introduction:

“During the first week that the additional on-site racks were in service, 43 percent of the Star Tribunes removed from those racks were not paid for. For the second week the rate was 41 percent. This is called ‘pilferage’ in our business; but put more plainly, it is theft, pure and simple.”

These are the folks who bought Knight Ridder. Good luck.

  • jr

    Even the minimum wage hourlies at McDonalds get a free meal don’t they?

  • In the 80s when I was a burger king burger boy making $3.35, then the minimum wage, we did not get a free lunch in the middle of our shifts. We got some kind of a discount, maybe 50%.

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  • One thing you missed from the article:

    “We were looking for ways to save money that do not impact our product or our customers,” said Mr. Taylor, adding that the personal copies totaled more than 4,000 on weekdays and 5,000 on Sunday. He said that the cost savings for the paper, which has a daily circulation of 379,713 and 666,683 on Sunday, was “significant.”

    4000 free papers and 5000 on Sunday!!! unless the Strib has a newsroom staff that is considerably larger than I would have imagined it looks like the journalists were reading multiple copies of the paper. I find it hard to believe unless there was a scam going on somehwere because at 50c/copy that adds up to a lot of potential lost revenue – I calculate it at over 3/4 of a million dollars. Oh and I wonder what it does to the ABC circulation figures ….

  • Um, newsprint costs money. I’m guessing the Strib spends about $60 million or so a year on paper. If they are able to decrease their pressruns by 1%, that’s a flat savings of $600,000 per year in materials. Total savings greater, since they would likely be incremental savings in manufacturing and handling waste, tiny reductions in labor to distribute the papers, etc. Call me crazy, but these are easy cuts to make — or they can lay off 7 or 8 complaining Strib staffers, if that’s a better way to save $600K.