End Of The Daily Newspaper Era?

Posted on December 18, 2008

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The Detroit Free Press will become the first major metro daily newspaper in the U.S. to reduce home delivery from seven-days-a-week to three days.

The Free Press and the Detroit News will cut back home delivery to only the three most lucrative days of the week: Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The historic change will take place in the first quarter of 2009.

The newspaper industry is in the “direst financial straits since the Depression,” The New York Times reported today.

“We’re fighting for our survival,” David Hunke, publisher of the Detroit Free Press, was reported as saying by CNN. The Free Press, published by Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper chain, reports circulation of 298,000 papers daily and 605,000 on Sunday.

“Our economics have become unsustainable,” said Jonathan Wolman, publisher of the Detroit News. The News, which does not publish on Sunday, will be reduced to home delivery two days a week. The Detroit News, published by MediaNews Group, has daily circulation of 178,000.

With rising costs, shrinking circulations, and disappearing advertising, it no longer makes sense in Detroit to keep delivering newspapers to customers’ homes more than three days a week. If it doesn’t make sense in Detroit, I wonder where it does make sense? How many other daily newspaper publishers are scratching their heads and asking why they’re still publishing every day?

I can only speculate that cutting back on home delivery days might be an option for some of the Tribune Corp. newspapers, such as The Baltimore Sun, which are in bankruptcy reorganization and trying to figure out how to return to profitability.

Printed copies of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News will still be available on Detroit newsstands seven days a week, and the Detroit newspapers are promising bold improvements and additions to their Web sites.

The Baltimore Sun is a smaller metro daily than the Detroit Free Press. The Sun reported daily circulation down 5.9 percent in the six months ending Sept. 30, to 218,923 daily, and Sunday circulation down 3.9 percent, to 350,640.

But The Sun also reported a 30 percent increase in page views on its Web site, and a 44 percent increase in unique visitors.

As if to underline the challenges facing the daily newspaper business, The New York Times is putting its Manhattan headquarters up as collateral to raise $225 million through either a mortgage or a sales-leaseback arrangement.

Newspapers and newspaper chains have closed or severely cut their Washington bureaus to save money, The New York Times reported on the front page today (12-18-2008). The Tribune Co. has recently merged the “once-formidable bureaus” of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and other papers, The Times reported.

The New York Times, thank goodness, is not in deep trouble, like the Detroit papers or the Tribune chain. The Times will survive the current shakeout to remain the country’s best daily newspaper. The Washington Post will also be among the survivors. — Bernie Hayden

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