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« Derek on Proteomics | Main | Politician Books »

July 18, 2007

Times and Journal Price Hikes

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I somehow missed the June announcement and entered a state of shock yesterday when I discovered that the news stand price of The Wall Street Journal went up 50%, from a dollar to $1.50.

The New York Times went from a dollar to $1.25, a mere 25% increase. That doesn't affect me personally because my love affair with the Times ended 15 or 20 years ago.

Now that I'm retired and several years away from running a demographics data business, business news isn't the necessity it once was. Plus, as I posted here, the Journal's editorial page slipped in quality markedly when Paul Gigot took the baton from the great (but, sadly, now late) Robert Bartley. Nevertheless, I was still buying the paper at the rate of three or four copies per week.

And now? I think I'll fork over the buck-fifty for the Friday edition. That's because I enjoy the big arts / culture / etcetera Weekend section. I'll miss the reviews from the Tuesday-through-Thursday Personal section. Ditto Walter Mossberg's Thursday computer column. That's life. Will I subscribe to the on-line WSJ? Perhaps, but it's not likely. I truly enjoy scanning newspapers and picking out stuff to dip into or read entirely, and that's still not conveniently done on the Web.

I read someplace that WSJ news stand and paper-box sales are less than seven percent of total paid circulation. So if the 50% price hike translates into a 50% sales loss in that segment, then the WSJ will lose three percent overall circulation. (From what I read, subscription prices have yet to change. Moreover, that circulation hit at boxes and stands won't be nearly as much as 50%. Even so, total circulation might take a one percent decline.)

What does this mean?

Thomas Lifson speculated on The New York Times here. He concludes that the paper is shrinking by almost any important measure: read his article to see how he builds his case. The WSJ situation is harder to figure out. Traditional circulation and advertising sales aren't going as badly as at the Times, and the WSJ presence on the Web has decent paid circulation. The major uncertainty for the short run is whether or not the Bancroft family will sell to Rupert Murdoch; a sale might well mean a new business strategy.

It's a commonplace in the newspaper industry that paid circulation revenues don't cover production and distribution costs -- advertising is what opens the possibility for black ink on the ledger. Some observers mention that printing and distribution costs can be huge, and reducing a "newspaper" to a Web-only presence might be viable economically because only reporters, editors and support staff would be necessary. Assuming, of course, that enough advertising can be sold.

At any rate, I find the 50% price rise hard to take. I might have tolerated a 15 or 25 cent hike, but 50 cents drops me to one paper per week. My best hope is that Rupert will order at least a partial rollback.

I hate to see newspapers die, even the ones I don't like (which would be most of them, actually). But why must they attempt suicide?

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at July 18, 2007




Comments

Newspapers won't die, but they do need to transform their newsgathering. In times past, papers relied on correspondents, independent news gatherers, such as the famed 19th century pioneer in that field, Januarius MacGahan. Thanks to modern technology, it is possible for papers to turn once again to correspondents, independent operators paid by the piece, while limiting the actual news employees of papers to a handful of editors working at computers. Would this destroy the caliber of the newsgathering? It can be argued that it would actually increase the quality and depth of newsgathering by having newsgatherers on the ground, everywhere. Their pay and future would depend directly on the quality of their product. I am saying that news can be gathered nowadays at only a fraction of the cost of doing it the old way, with state bureaus, foreign bureaus, capital bureaus, etc. As for the independent correspondents, as private entrepereneurs they would be responsible for their own pensions and health insurance, further reducing overhead for the great dailies. Their competition with one another would improve, rather than undermine, the quality of news.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on July 18, 2007 4:03 PM



I've been complaining about the WSJ for a while now myself. There was a time when it seemed I couldn't finish one paper before the next one arrived because of the number of great articles. Now, it's rare if I find three articles a week that I'm interested in. Is it me or the paper? Seems that other people are also losing their enthusiasm.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on July 18, 2007 5:00 PM



I agree with Donald. It will be a shame if they actually sell to Murdock, since he is guaranteed to destroy about half of the WSJ's good will, namely, its reputation of integrity on the news side. Though, even there, I've seen a little slippage lately, especially in one piece on the problem of tax avoidance for the IRS, and the sheer scale of it among the top one tenth of one percent, which NYT's David Cay Johnston (I believe that's his name) writes so well about.

Here's another tidbit I just picked up on C-Span. Most major papers are closing down their foreign bureaus. There arer only about 250 foreign correspondents left, and half of them work for the WSJ.

Posted by: Luke Lea on July 18, 2007 10:10 PM



Hmm...I think you should look into getting a subscription...I have a two year subscription for $150, which (at six issues a week) comes out to about $.25 an issue!

Posted by: Urijah on July 28, 2007 11:16 PM






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