BY DON NELSON
A few small changes
When I purchased the Methow Valley News a couple of years ago, some folks noted that I was buying myself a job. Actually, it was at least two jobs. It’s not uncommon at small weeklies for the publisher and editor to be the same person, but I was much more familiar with the journalistic side of the operation.
The business side is a constant challenge, even with many loyal readers (thank you) and supportive advertisers (thank you, too). While rural papers have not suffered as badly as urban dailies in lost revenues and subscriptions, the same economic pressures are present at all newspapers in the so-called digital age. Revenue and expenses are immutable forces that are constantly at odds with each other.
Like other newspapers, we’ve seen a big drop-off in classified advertising revenue because of free online competition, and a significant decrease in advertising by the real estate and construction industries as we all felt recessionary effects. We are taking in significantly less money than we were a few years ago when the economy was booming, while our expenses haven’t dropped correspondingly – not a recipe for long-term survival.
I’ve reluctantly concluded that at the News, we need to do a few things to keep income on pace with outgo (thus creating a sustainable profit). Our costs in most operational areas have continued to creep or leap up annually, while our prices have not – in some cases, for many years. In the next few weeks, we’re going to introduce some changes:
• Our single copy sales price will go from 75 cents to $1, consistent with many weeklies around the state. Our retail partners, who get a share of every sale, will see their cut increase a bit.
• Our subscription prices for mail delivery will increase by 10 percent – from $30 to $33 for in-county delivery, from $40 to $44 for out-of-county delivery in Washington state, and from $50 to $55 for out-of-state delivery. Do we need to mention postage cost increases?
However, we will soon announce details about how current subscribers can extend their subscriptions at the old rate. And in the near future we will also make it possible for people to subscribe or renew on our website using a credit card.
• We will begin charging a small processing fee for obituaries. Short death notices will continue to be free but we will charge $25 for obituaries of up to 300 words, and 10 cents a word beyond that. We will include a photo at no charge.
This was a painful step, but in looking around I concluded that we were one of the few papers in the state – or anywhere – that wasn’t charging for obituaries, and I learned that most people have come to expect it. Our fees will be lower than those at most other similar papers, some of which levy an additional charge to publish photos.
These are not especially dramatic moves, but anyone who owns a small business understands that small, incremental adjustments make a cumulative difference.
At many newspapers around the country, the response to economic pressures has been to slash the newsroom staff and diminish customer service. Last week, the Portland Oregonian cut its newsroom by about one-fourth and reduced home delivery to four days a week. The publisher called those moves “exciting.”
We haven’t cut our staff or dialed back our commitment to the best possible community coverage. If anything, we intend to do more, both in the newspaper and on our website. There are other changes coming, some more dramatic than others, and you’ll hear more about them. We are not wavering a bit, however, from our core mission: to cover everything large and small that affects people who live here or care deeply about what happens here – for a long time to come.