A Newspaper’s Winning Strategy: Deplete Staff, Dilute Product, Jack Up Price

TennLetter2In 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.

2 Comments on “A Newspaper’s Winning Strategy: Deplete Staff, Dilute Product, Jack Up Price”

  1. Jo says:

    Conversations I had w/ my husband & friends yesterday after receiving the rate increase notice included thoughts very similar to yours. Then this morning our paper wasn’t delivered. So, during our normal morning paper reading, discussing articles, etc., my husband & I instead fought the automatic ads loaded along w/ the annoying automatic videos as we tried reading together, one of us on the computer, the other using an iPad. The TN site is NOT user friendly at all. Very frustrating. I’ve paid for an online daily, w/ Sunday, account for The New York Times for about a year. If I’m forced to use online only, there’s no question I’ll drop The Tennessean in favor the the NY Times. Much better coverage, quality & user friendly.

    • BB says:

      It is indeed a very cumbersome and user-unfriendly website. I relied on website only to keep up with doings in Nashville during a month-long absence from town earlier this year, and it got to the point where I just stopped doing it via Tennessean. Instead I began to rely on local TV news smartphone apps, which one would never expect to be more useful than a daily newspaper’s website, but somehow they are.