Saturday, November 01, 2008

Lee ailing

Maybe it's just me, but I missed this highly interesting story in the Billings Gazette this week. It's more bad news to add to the "morgue"-like atmosphere reported at the chain's most prestigious acquisition.

Maybe it also helps explain why the Mini Nickel, owned by Lee, has just signed a deal with Town Pump to control distribution of free publications in its 75 Montana stores. We just got a letter this week telling us that we will have to pay $40 a month if we want to stay in our two Billings Town Pump locations.

Maybe. According to the account in The Press Pass, the publication of the Montana Newspaper Association (new edition not yet on line), the contract apparently does not affect newspaper racks, just TMC (total market coverage) and shopper-style publications. Not sure why the Mini Nickel wrote to us.

But it's more than a bit annoying. Efforts by large chains to gobble up news rack space in major retailers and block out competitors have been documented here and elsewhere.

What's annoying about Town Pump's behavior is not so much that it's trying to make an extra buck or two but that it gave the contract to our biggest competitor and the state's dominant newspaper company. Don't the rest of us get to bid?

The other thing is that Town Pump occasionally sends us news releases about its various activities and asks that we print them at no charge. We have always been happy to do this, when the items are relevant and space is available.

Now Town Pump wants us to print its news releases for its benefit at our own expense. Then it wants us to pay Town Pump so that Town Pump customers can read about its good works. I wonder whether anyone there has considered why this might not sound like a good business model to us.

On the other hand, bad news is always good for somebody. The Gazette dropped its weekly TV guide on Oct. 1, which leaves the Outpost as the best source of weekly TV listings. Not only is our pickup on the streets noticeably better, but our subscriptions went up 215 percent in October.


Chuck Rightmire said...

When I look at the Gazette I have come to the conclusion that Lee is trying to destory the paper or at least turn it into a shopper. And when I read the current Gazette blogs and realize they are commenting on things that were not considered important enough to make the dead tree edition, I am fully disappointed. The circulation will eventually be only business people who want to read favorable reviews of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Jackie Corr was no fan of the owners of Town Pump.

Kirk Dooley said...

Beginning in January, the East Valley Tribune, which was the other paper here in the Phoenix metro area (owned by Freedom Communications, which owns the Orange County Register ), will change from a seven-days-a-week paper (that charged 50 cents Monday-Saturday and $1.50 on Sundays) that had local editions for Scottsdale, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Tempe-Mesa-Chandler, into a Sunday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday paper that would be free (no word if it'll be home-delivered). (The Tempe and Scottsdale news operations will be eliminated.)

The Trib had local news, business news, arts, opinion and classified ads in a tabloid first section and national/world and sports in a semi-tabloid section. (The paper's motto was "Where Local News Comes First.")

This change comes with pink slips for 40 folks (split between the newsroom and the press room; nobody in sales has gotten the axe...yet). The over/under for the new business plan's survival is six months. (My advice: take the under.)