A Newspaper’s Winning Strategy: Deplete Staff, Dilute Product, Jack Up PricePosted: August 20, 2013
In a move that truly merits a place of honor in the corporate hallucination hall of fame, the “customer service” wing of The Tennessean dropped me (and presumably all 16 other remaining print subscribers) a line this week informing me that the paper’s utter fabulousness warrants an arresting 26% hike in the subscription price. This big an increase all at once would be irksome on its own given a low-inflation economy and the ever-declining quality of Gannett’s product, but coming as it does on the heels of multiple rounds of newsroom layoffs it’s downright appalling.
Of course, the missive from Customer Service VP Barbara Smith doesn’t bother to mention the old rate or the scope of the increase. The hope, obviously is that we won’t notice its magnitude, nor recall that subscription prices rose big time as recently as mid-2012 when the paper unveiled digital apps and an online paywall. In all, the cost of my seven-day home-delivery subscription in the last 15 months has jumped a whopping 68 percent, from $17.25 in May 2012 to the new rate of $29.00 starting next month.
But it must be worth it, VP Barbara argues, because the daily fish wrapper tells “more local stories that make a difference, protect taxpayers, and touch an emotional chord.” (A 68 percent price hike sure touches an emotional chord.) They “engage readers with timely news information and deliver valuable insights that can’t be found anywhere else.” (Who writes this stuff?) And somehow Ms. Smith finds it in herself to trumpet with a straight typeface the “award-winning tennessean.com site” — a web presence that is widely understood to be badly designed, clumsy in execution, and difficult to navigate. (And don’t get me started on the paper’s abysmal excuse for a smartphone app.) Cities half the size of Nashville have daily papers with better online presence.
Look, we readers get it that the newspaper business is economically dire, and that over the long run, daily dead-tree home delivery is becoming an expensive luxury. Many news organizations are confronting their uncertain future by struggling heroically to maintain the mission and the quality while bracing against the gathering storm. At The Tennessean the approach is a little different: deplete the staff, kill morale, dilute the quality of the product, jack up the prices, and hope nobody notices.
A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.