This morning’s column is, as Bill Crist pointed out on Wednesday, being published a week late. An explanation for the newspaper’s change regarding the publication of television listings was overlooked in the logistical preparations for it. The oversight prompted numerous telephone calls to the Bulletin on Sunday morning. Many callers thought the television book just had not been inserted into their copy of the newspaper. The explanation that we had discontinued the book and were beginning to publish the listings each day only seemed to increase their irritation with the newspaper. The comments ranged in emotion from constructive criticism, the daily listings are too small to read, to accusations - the newspaper is just trying to force people to purchase a paper everyday.
The decision really came down to one of economics. We explored, discussed and tried to predict the business outcome for several different avenues we could take in the current economic environment. The expedient option was merely to pass along the increased cost to our readers. It would not be something unique for them - more and more companies are taking that approach everyday. An increase in raw material costs generates a rate increase in the product. Transportation costs are spiraling - a fuel charge gets added for delivery. Energy costs begin to skyrocket - a surcharge gets added into the total bill.
We have always been sensitive to the subscription price of the Bulletin. Experience tells us that when the costs in necessities for a family rise dramatically it is the spending on discretionary purchases that suffers. We are not so naďve that we think people cannot live without a daily newspaper, even the local community paper. Neither do we think that our readers could not adapt to going on-line and reading their local newspaper electronically on a computer.
What to do? Home delivery of the Bulletin seven days a week for a month costs $11.95 per month. The price is low when compared to the $17.17 subscription price for the Abilene newspaper and $17.50 for Fort Worth’s. While it is slightly more expensive than the $10.79 purchase price of a month’s worth of TV Guide, it provides considerably more diversity of reading material. As Bill Crist wrote on Wednesday, our customers, both readers and advertisers are our lifeblood. We have elected, at this time, to not raise the subscription rate and try to manage and conserve our resources in the most efficient manner possible.
The major costs for newspapers fall into three broad categories - people, paper and delivery. The subscription price of the Bulletin has not increased in 10 years. In June of 1998 gasoline was selling for $1.03 cents-per gallon. Today it is hovering around the $4.00 per gallon mark, yet the circulation department employees and contractors continue to drive in excess of 1,325 miles per day distributing the newspapers. The increased costs for delivery have been absorbed. The newspaper also absorbed the costs in 2004 when the price of gasoline doubled and a Saturday edition was introduced. The extra day meant another day of delivery costs and another day of wages and contractor payments. In addition to not choosing a rate increase at this time, we have decided to keep our delivery area intact and continue to provide a local product to readers in rural Brown, Mills and Comanche counties. They are potential customers for our advertising partners. The goals are ambitious in these economic times and they will not be achieved without some necessary changes in the way we do business.
Another one of the major expenses on the three-legged stool for newspapers is newsprint. After enjoying several years of stable pricing from the mills, we have experienced a dramatic upward spiral in the cost of newsprint. Since the first of the year the price per metric ton has increased $140 and analysts forecast it to go up another $60 by January 2009. Supplements in the Sunday newspaper like the television book consume a lot of newsprint. In addition to having to purchase the listings from a syndicate, printing a separate section is an added expense. We explored how we might provide the same information, albeit not as much, in a more cost-effective format. Like color comics, we have moved television listings to run-of-paper pages.
This explanation of our motives may be somewhat tardy, but it is nonetheless sincere. We remain committed to publishing the most complete and comprehensive local newspaper our community will support.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.