Sunday papers, lost and found
I don’t want to have any print newspapers dropped onto the sidewalk in front of our house, but I have two of ‘em now waiting for me on Sundays. Turns out it’s less expensive to have Sunday print + digital subscriptions to The New York Times and The Boston Globe than to get digital-only subscriptions, so to save a few bucks I’m doing the ecologically wrong thing by having someone drop yesterday’s news onto the sidewalk.
But I’m not here to complain. I’m here to wonder: Is there an opportunity here for newspapers to use their Sunday papers as something other than necessary add-ons during this transition period when print readers are worth so much more to publishers and advertisers than digital readers? Let’s pay a visit to our most ridiculous 2012 presidential candidate for a hint.
Saturday afternoon I was doing some laundry in the basement and wanted some news to keep me company during the mundane task. It was the hour that the Herman Cain am-I-done-yet? announcement was expected, so I tuned into a livestream and started sorting the clothes. Cain wasn’t onstage yet, but a series of supporters, probably not knowing that he was about to desert them as they dedicated his new campaign headquarters, made the case for him.
One of those speakers got my attention more than I’d expected. He spoke of going on a recent Sunday to a store to pick up a copy of his local paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There was a sign noting that copies of the AJC were available only behind the counter, which he hadn’t seen before, so he got in line to buy the paper. The woman in front of him in line needed some extra money to complete her transaction, so she went to her car to get more cash and he stepped up to the register. He asked why the newspapers were behind the counter, and the cashier told him that people were stealing the coupons inside the paper and leaving the rest of it. Then the woman who needed extra money returned and completed her transaction: she was buying six copies of the day’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The speaker used this story as a way into an indictment of Obama’s economic policies (it was a reach), but I heard something different: a chance for print newspapers to grab relevance at a time when the few bucks it costs to buy a Sunday paper is a purchase millions of Americans have to think over. I know it’s stupid to suggest action based on a sample size of one, especially if that sample thought Herman Cain was a genuine candidate for president, but think about it. As my pal Scott Kirsner pointed out to me last week, the best newspapers create value for their readers: they uncover corruption, they keep people informed, they save readers from bad restaurants. And in these tough, tough times, newspapers can save readers money. Embrace that! Who in this age wouldn’t spend $3 to save $30? Newspapers could promote the quantity of the savings along with the quality of the coverage. And that gives newspapers more readers to give to more advertisers, who would buy more ads with rmore discounts. Everyone wins, in the short term. It’s no solution to the big issues newspapers have to face, but it’s a short-term fix that does no harm and may bring in new readers. Come for the discounts and we’ll give you the news, too!
P.S. Just as science fiction beats real science to the punch, the newspaper satirists got here before real newspapers: The Chicago Tribune moves to an all-Beyonce-and-coupons format in one of the greatest-ever Onion videos.