When subscribers subsidize advertisers, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore

Nelson County Gazette


Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 — I’ve worked as a journalist for many years, and for the past 20 years, I have watched how newspapers have lost substantial number of their loyal readers.

The decline in readership translates directly into a decline of circulation — and subsequently, advertising revenue. This has prompted newspapers to take measures to reduce costs; even our local newspaper operates with fewer journalists that it once did just a few years ago.

The newspaper game is really fairly simple. The majority of the costs of creating a newspaper is paid for by advertisers. That subscription or single-copy price you pay at the Piggly Wiggly doesn’t come close to paying the bills, and it never has. But if readers didn’t pay something for a newspaper, the theory is you probably wouldn’t place much value on it. But the fact that free newspapers like the Louisville Eccentric Observer exist underscore the simple fact that per-copy price just doesn’t pay the bills.

So it came as something of a surprise this week when I was told that the Kentucky Standard doubled the price of its paper on Sunday, Aug. 19 — from 50 cents to $1 — simply because that issue had the 56-page “Best Of Nelson County” special section inserted in it.

It was a surprise to me that the newspaper forced subscribers and single-copy buyers to pay double because of the “Best Of” section was by design at least half full of paid advertising!

If you look inside the “Best Of” section, you’ll see that each winner featured on each page purchased an ad. The majority of the ads are either half-page ads or quarter-page ads, all full-color, which adds to the cost. In my years at other newspapers, I never heard of a newspaper doubling its price to cover the cost of a special section.

Now the newspaper game has changed in the past few years, and with the declines in circulation that have plagued even local publications, I had to question if newspaper ad rates have declined to the point that they no longer generate enough revenue to pay the printing bill.

The newspaper’s own explanation for the price jump seems to support this theory:

“Due to the premium nature and increased production and distribution costs of the Best Of Nelson County published in today’s paper, all subscribers will incur a charge of $1 for the edition.”

The notice — published inside the Aug. 19 higher-priced paper and shown at right — notes that those who subscribe won’t have to pay extra, but the newspaper will make a “slight adjustment” to the expiration date of your subscription, i.e., shortening the length of your subscription.

Maybe I’m just biased, but does anyone else think this was a sneaky or underhanded thing to pull on single-copy buyers and newspaper subscribers? Or perhaps the newspaper should simply price its advertising to pay the actual “production and distribution costs,” rather than charge readers for it?

In a discussion with my college-age son, he suggested that since the Aug. 19 issue had the “Best Of” section included, the price hike was a way for the newspaper to generate additional revenue on single-copy sales. He reasoned that every winning “Best Of Nelson County” business will buy multiple copies of the newspaper, not to mention proud employees of the winning businesses who rightly want to have their own copies.

After careful study of his theory, I think I’m ready to recommend that he change his major at the University of Louisville from theoretical physics to business administration.


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