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A fascinating advertising media story broke this morning courtesy of the Philadelphia Business Journal and City Paper.  It encapsulates many of the problems faced by city newspapers struggling with print sales, but has a particularly Philadelphia spin. The brief article in PBJ raises lots of questions, but obviously doesn’t answer all of them, because the issues are far from resolved.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Philly.com has long carried free Inquirer and Daily News content. Now, controversy is brewing.

Longtime readers of digital content from the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both owned by the same newspaper group, have conditioned themselves for years to go to Philly.com. In March, without a lot of fanfare, separate sites for both newspapers were launched, Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com. Now, reporters from both papers are upset because people are still going to the more sex/entertainment/sports-driven content of Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News stories co-carried there for free. That last point sounds like either a clear contractual sore spot or a grey area mess for lawyers to sort out. Philly.com has been a long-running web site intended to meld content from both papers. Now, with each paper wanting to establish a separate online identity (separate from each other and from Philly.com), the plot is definitely thickening.

Drop down to the very bottom of the page on Philly.com and you see that the site is owned by Interstate General Media. Under About Us and Contact Us, there are many editorial contact numbers for both the Inquirer and Daily News news and sports desks. There are also separate banks of links for The Inquirer and the Daily News, as well as links to additional media partners, Philadelphia City Paper, Philly DealYo, and Parade Magazine. The former links take you directly to the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com home pages; the latter open new tabs to the partner sites.

On Philly.com, there are advertising links to the Philly.com advertising media kit. On Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, there is no advertising information or media kit link. In fact, there are no ads (possibly there are beyond the home page, but I am not a digital subscriber, so I don’t know with absolute certainty). Ads  appear prominently on Philly.com, however.  All three sites carry the copyright lines for Interstate General Media, LLC. How’s that for the ultimate separation of editorial and advertising? What a mess!

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

Inquirer.com is the new online Inquirer site (playing second fiddle to much of the same content free on Philly.com)

So, reporters at the Inquirer and Daily News don’t like to have their content or brand diluted through Philly.com. But yet, for years, subscribers have been conditioned to go to Philly.com for Inquirer and Daily News co-content. And Philly.com is where all the advertising resides, along with ancillary sex/entertainment/sports content that seems to be helping to attract additional visitors who are neither Inquirer nor Daily News subscribers.  To that off-kilter branding/business model, you can roll in print versions of both papers. Current cost for an annual 7-day delivery of the Inquirer is just under $250 (while well under a buck a day, it is still a big number on the subscription side).  There are also digital subscriptions for both papers, which can be separate or combined with print subscriptions. When you attempt to go beyond the home pages of the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com, you are prompted to either log-in to your digital subscription or to sign up for one. Yet, that same content can be found on Philly.com for free. Confused yet? As a subscriber or an advertiser? Subscribers can enter promo codes to reduce their costs.  Who knows, maybe there is even a special offer on Philly DealYo.

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

PhillyDailyNews.com has its own look, but also shares content (free) with Philly.com

Not sure why the new Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites now exist in their alternate ad-less universes (alternate from Philly.com). All I know is that it currently equates to either a great media buy on Philly.com, where most of the visitors are (because of free and additional content), or a questionable digital subscriber buy on either Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com where editorial is purer and ad-free but a lot more expensive. This sounds like it was a business model concocted by the best minds at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

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A roof over your head. Seems like such a basic concept, but ironically, what is the term for the biggest group of expenses of any business (the expenses that constantly get cut in order to maintain profitability)? Overhead — employee salaries and benefits, office or commercial space, utilities, taxes, insurance to maintain that office or commercial space. So, as businesses struggle to make payments, and often have to layoff staff, so do the many individual employees affected by such cuts. And with all the holes in the safety net of government assistance, more and more people are losing homes and without employment unable to find affordable housing. Vicious cycle, as they say.

Homeless is a term that says it all. You have hit rock bottom economically and you have the cold hard pavement as a pillow each night. A few weeks ago, our blog talked about the politics of cancer and how some forms were politically incorrect and less sympathetic (notably, lung cancer thanks to tobacco stigma). The same rules apply to the homeless and make them easy to dismiss — when you have a group that includes the mentally ill (many off meds or untreated), the drug addicted (alcohol, prescription, and/or illegal drugs), and the criminal (serving your time does not guarantee you a roof over your head upon release), many are going to be quick to write off the problem of homelessness as unsolvable or throwing good money after bad. But the group also includes people who can’t find work in a tough economy, entire families, veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other wars, and the poor who work but don’t earn enough to pay for housing.

Real life is seldom ever neat and tidy, however. I was reminded of this when hearing the latest presidential campaign tussles over 47% of Americans not paying federal income tax and some other percentage receiving government assistance. Regardless of which candidate you support, those numbers should disturb you. A lot. For me, they underscore that too many Americans are on the handout side of some kind of weighted scale and not enough are on the working and earning enough to pay federal taxes side.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

One Step Away is a new newspaper sold by the homeless in Philadelphia to help the homeless.

That is why I was heartened by a casual event when I was down to the Pennsylvania Convention Center last week. I was approached by a street vendor selling a newspaper called “One Step Away.” It is a new publication designed for a noble purpose— to incentivize the homeless to earn money and get themselves on a path toward a roof over their heads.  Each homeless vendor pays 25 cents a copy but sells the paper for $1. That means every paper purchased puts 75 cents in their pocket. Most salespersons I know would kill for a 75% commission; however, we’re not talking about an easy-to-sell product in the digital age. In fact, I just saw a story about how newspaper revenues had dropped to 1950s levels. So, “One Step Away” is properly structured on a basic free enterprise level and the homeless vendors have a great carrot to help themselves. They have skin in the game, unlike a significant portion of those 47% who aren’t paying federal income taxes but receiving benefits.

“One Step Away” gets its name from the truism that too many of us are only a missed paycheck or a lost job or a medical crisis on the plus side of the homelessness ledger. That is a sobering thought.

If you would like to help the “One Step Away” mission, I encourage you to visit OSAPHILLY.ORG to donate, support, advertise. This video will introduce you to some of the many homeless vendors you will be helping get back on their feet.

Philadelphia once captured national attention about the problem of homelessness when an 11-year-old boy named Trevor Ferrell from one of America’s richest suburbs, Gladwyne, challenged his parents, his church, and a whole lot of other fellow citizens to help out. I am glad to see that TrevorsCampaign.org is still carrying on his mission. It was a little bittersweet to read this account and learn that the adult Trevor elected not to leverage his fame into a career and is now dealing somewhat anonymously with adult challenges like the rest of us — meeting financial obligations and trying to make a good life for his own family. We all have skin in this game.

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