Monday, March 30, 2009

Detroit leads historic switch closer to 100% digital

[New look: A slimmer Free Press, sold only in racks and stores]

After more than three months' planning, the Gannett-controlled Detroit newspapers today reduced home delivery to just three days popular with advertisers: Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. The rest of the week, customers of the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News are encouraged to go to the papers' websites, or to buy new slimmer print versions, also debuting today, at retail locations. "They are accelerating greatly the print-to-digital transformation, and they are taking a great chance there," media analyst Ken Doctor of Outsell Inc. told the Associated Press.

Freep Editor Paul Anger said today switch "marks the start of a new era" for delivering news. "We're still printing newspapers every day," Anger told readers in a note, "we're putting replicas of Free Press pages online at -- and we're putting more emphasis on digital ways of getting information to you, including right here at That means has more updates than ever, and we're working to make response times faster. It means you can view more videos from our Emmy-award winning staff, get more news on your mobile device at, sign up for E-Newsletters, follow us at or or, visit our Facebook page, join the conversations at, make plans for food and fun at, find a job or a car or a better buy at our, or"

The papers are published by the Detroit Media Partnership, a joint operating agency owned by Gannett and MediaNews Group. GCI owned the News for 20 years until 2005, when it sold the paper to MediaNews in a three-way deal with Knight Ridder. Gannett got Knight's Freep, Florida's Tallahassee Democrat, and "cash consideration'' the companies did not disclose. Knight got Gannett's Idaho Statesman, plus two Washington state dailies: The Olympian, and The Bellingham Herald. Most of Knight was subsequently merged into McClatchy Co.

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  1. He lost me at "view more videos. ..."

  2. I don’t understand the idea of going all digital. I think it’s a BIG illusion or a mistake…Think about this…People pay more and more to be online but the way we are losing our jobs we won’t be able to afford to stay online ..So all this "Digital World” is going to come slamming down on us and the new headlines will say…”The internet subscribers are falling down the roof”. At Least we can manage to buy a news paper for .25 cents but staying online requires contracts or monthly Fees

  3. Kudos to the folks at the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press for taking these bold moves. The papers are sensibly using a multipronged approach to getting readers: print editions; digital editions; the Web site; mobile editions. David Hunke, Jon Wolman and Paul Anger should be applauded for embarking on this plan.

  4. I wish them luck.
    They're probably going to need some.
    I would hate it if I couldn't go outside and pick up my daily newspaper to read first thing in the morning.
    I wonder what it is about the Detroit demographics that makes the gamble worth trying?
    Is it that nobody in Detroit subscribes to the newspaper?

  5. Thank you for stopping by, Tara (11:13)

  6. The first day of no morning paper on my doorstep...and it's the day when all hell breaks loose at GM and Chrysler. The perfect day to do a little in depth reading and analysis.

    I tried my digital Freep this morning. It's OK, but apparently this just sunk in with my husband:

    Him:"how do I take the comics into the bathroom"
    Me:"Get a longer cord for the computer?"

    Him:"how can we both read different sections of the paper at the same time?"
    Me: "CAN'T"

    Him: "this SUCKS"
    Me: "YUP"

    I think I'm going to need a bigger monitor, too. The main page view is too small to see any content until you click on a story.

  7. So long Free Press. It was nice knowing. You will be all online in less than a year, so employees better get ready to lose their jobs just like in Seattle. This is only a delay. If I worked there, I would high-tail it out of there.

  8. I was offered a job at the Free Press four or five years ago. I'm so glad now that I didn't take it.

  9. Shirley, The Detroit Free Press Sunday circulation is 6th largest in the country. 600,000+. Weekdays it's almost 300,000. The beauty of this plan is that subscribers only get the print paper on Thu, Fri and Sun and the e-edition everyday. In effect they're paying for an online newspaper, just as it appears in print. Go to and see. So you have the paper every day, but on 4 of those days it's digital. And people are paying for it. It's brilliant.

  10. Regarding 11:13AM, nicely written David, Jon and Paul. Has anybody seen a model of a version of a current paper successfully operating digitally? I hear the online components of papers could perhaps generate 10-15% of the gross revenues and that's with the daily paper hawking online several times on every page.

    It might be interesting to see if the reported amazing volume of page views can be sustained without the papers' help.

  11. Shirley in Texas: Before this change, the Detroit papers home-delivered about 300,000 papers each day. So it's not an issue of lack of interest in home delivery. It's all about making money. The papers sell more than 80 percent of their ads on the days (Thursday, Friday and Sunday) that they will deliver to homes. So, to stop the flow of red ink, they are cutting delivery on the unprofitable days, which some say will save the papers about $20 million in a year in newsprint and delivery costs.

  12. You can also check out the Detroit News' electronic edition at You'll see that the News, unlike the Free Press, took the smarter route of keeping a free-standing Sports section.

  13. internet access is cheap. Welcome to the digital world. I'm in my 20s and I have no reason to ever need a newspaper. There are too many other ways to get up to date news. I don't need to see yesterdays news today.

    With so many ways to get online why bother with a filthy newspaper? (and by filthy I mean, turn your hands black as the print rubs off)

    Heck, even my 80 some year old grandparents have a computer and get news on it.

    Not making any kind of effort to get online years ago is part of problem. Everyone else moved ahead and they sat there till it was too late, bought up some crappy online sites and hoped to compete with those who had already established themselves online. Too little to late.

  14. 12:33
    The Free Press sports section is a pull out. Same difference.

  15. I find two things hilarious about many of the responses on this blog post.

    First, all of you screamed and screamed for Gannett to take some bold action to take advantage of technology and the Internet. Then, when it does with a move like this, you either decry the "death" of the print edition and/or lament it's too little, too late.

    Second, whenever someone posts a compliment or something positive, you attack them as a Gannett executive (see 11:43 a.m.) Well, I applaud this move and hope it works. I am a Gannett employee, but far removed from any towers of power. I just have a mortgage to pay and college educations to fund for 3 kids -- I would like to see it work.

  16. It's much easier as a reader to go all online than I would have thought. I don't miss having to go out in the cold and wet to get the paper. All digital makes sense to me.

  17. D from The D3/30/2009 1:41 PM

    Well said 1:12pm!!

    I'm not a "kool-aid" drinker and I'm far from the Ivory tower as well and want to see it work. I grew up reading the Freep and want to still. Plus their photo and video people do some amazing work.

  18. Here's an update about the transition from a story on the Detroit News Web site:

    The Detroit News
    The Detroit News announced today that its news content will soon be available on two portable electronic "e-reader" devices.

    Along with its partner in the Detroit Media Partnership, the Detroit Free Press, The News is expected to be among the first publications in the country to test an e-reader produced by California-based firm Plastic Logic later this year. Content also is expected to be available on's Kindle reader devices.

    The Plastic Logic Reader features a touch screen, is lightweight and about the size of an 8.5 x 11-inch pad of paper.

    "This will be an appealing advance in the modern delivery of news," said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The Detroit News. "These e-readers will give our subscribers a convenient and environmentally friendly way to view the paper, and to tote it around."

    As part of the digital initiative, the device will be offered for purchase or lease to subscribers as an alternative to paper delivery, officials said.

    "We absolutely believe in the future of great newspapers, but we can no longer do business as usual," Dave Hunke, CEO of Detroit Media Partnership said today. "These changes allow us to focus our resources on strengthening the content we provide readers instead of investing in paper, ink and fuel. They allow us to take a big step towards exciting new relationships with readers, subscribers and advertisers."

    As part of the digital initiative, the device will be offered for purchase or lease to subscribers as an alternative to paper delivery, officials said.

    "The newspaper industry faces historic challenges as it attempts to transform itself in the digital age," Hunke said in a statement. "We look to innovative new digital products like the Plastic Logic Reader to help us usher in a new era in publishing by helping us provide our readers all the benefits of digital content while retaining the familiar easy-to-read, paper-like format many readers continue to value."

    The addition of the e-readers to the distribution arsenal of The News is part of the next generation of newspapering in the region. Included in the changes is the scaling back of home delivery as The News and its parent, The Detroit Media Partnership, cuts costs in an effort to stabilize a business hurt by the recession and the splintering of its news audience to Internet sources.

    On Monday, the paper distributed more than a half-million free copies of The News and The Detroit Free Press. Customer reaction was mixed, with some loyal readers upset that they didn't get the paper at home this morning. But others acknowledged that changes were necessary.

    "I just see it as the sign of the times," said Al Gebarowski, 70, of Macomb Township. He picked up a paper at a Warren gas station before meeting friends at Tim Horton's doughnut shop in Sterling Heights.

    The News will publish six days a week, and home delivery will be available on Thursday and Friday; the Free Press will also be available Sunday, when The News does not publish.

    "We're beginning a new era Monday with the first of our express editions, and I hope readers across the region will give the paper a good look," said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The News.

    News subscribers can access a special "e-edition" of the newspaper, a digital replica of the printed paper, The News also will continue to be available online at, or as a mobile version for Smartphones at

    The changes will affect many readers who have grown up accustomed to enjoying the paper over breakfast, perhaps well before getting dressed to go out. For them, the switch will take some getting used to.

    "This is the beginning of a new lifestyle," said John Lamb, a 50-year-old musician from Royal Oak.

    Lamb spent some time this morning navigating the new e-edition of the paper, and he had a ready observation: "You can't eat your cereal and read your laptop at the same time."

    This morning's paper edition had major changes, including new features and a different layout. Alphonso Cox, 33, of Ferndale is an artist and substitute teacher and quickly noted the changes.

    "This is definitely different," Cox said, adding that he liked the more colorful layout with ample use of photos and graphics. "It looks a little cooler."

    The decision by the Detroit Media Partnership is one of the many tough calls being made by newspapers around the country as a once-profitable business struggles in the face of difficult economic times and competition from news sources and other advertising vehicles.

    In recent weeks, the newspaper industry has seen the Rocky Mountain News shuttered in Denver, while the Christian Science Monitor and Seattle Post-Intelligencer dropped their print editions and moved to online-only operations. Closer to home, the Ann Arbor News said last week that it will close in July and be replaced by, which will publish news and other information daily online and twice-weekly in print. Papers in Flint, Saginaw and Bay City will cut print editions to three days a week.

  19. Online is convenient, however, we aren't making any money online. Why will someone want a Thursday paper in hand after they learn to live without it Mon. thru Wed.?

    And I'm sure we can just wean the 50-and-up generation (aka almost-dead-anyway as far as the suits seem to think) off the product completely despite the fact that they still want to read it.

    I fail to see how that catapults us into the digital age. We teach everyone to read it for free, cease to generate ad revenue and further hasten our demise. What am I missing?

  20. Can't give them away ...
    I have been around many single copy locations in Metro Detroit this afternoon and the majority of the "free" News and Free Presses are still in the racks.

  21. But people are paying the subscription price for the newspaper replica online. That's the only way to get it. It's part of the subscription price. They can still get locally written stories online at but you can get the 3 delivery days and the whole paper on the e-edition, all for a price.

  22. 12:35 and 1:12 have some great comments. 12:35 sums up why I just canceled my local paper subscription (I'm also in my 20s). Why pay for what you can get for free? And I work in Circ......

    1:12 also hit the nail on the head. Why not give Detroit's model a chance before bashing it?

  23. Wow - What a day to drop home delivery! Not much in the news in Detroit today ...

    Oh, wait!

    How sad and pathetic it is that Gannett chose this historic day to cease home delivery of a FULL, comprehensive metro daily newspaper (remember what those are?)

    And of couse, in addition to the historic auto news, there is the Michigan State in the BB Final Four.

    Nope... move along folks... nothing to read here ... go elsewhere for all the details....

  24. Too bad Gannett and Detroit have abandoned its low-income and under-privedged residents... those who have VERY limited access to Internet.

    It is both racist and discriminatory to not make available to poor people in Detroit the same online edition made available to those more affluent in the suburbs!

    Why is there no uproar over such blatant racism by Gannett? Why is Gannett ignoring all those impoverished people who cannot get online and cannot travel to a "single-copy" outlet to get the news????

    Clearly, Gannett is a racist company - it is shutting out information to its most needy and underserved residents.

    And don't say they can "go to the library" and get online... those libraries are far too dangerous and computer terminals too few and far between.

  25. Rick Wagoner is to GM as Craig Dubow is to Gannett.

    Two fucking losers that do not know how to find the way out of a paper bag!

    Dubow, maybe you should resign!

  26. Because knowledge is power. That is how they keep the poor people uninformed and then they won't complain about what is happening in their community or in their state (I don't mean Gannett, I mean our government). The media has already been bought out by lobbyists and special interests — why do you think there is no truly investigative reporting. Just fluff about a movie star — kind of like USA Today weekend. What a useless publication. It's a sign of the times. No information, no chaos in the streets. Makes perfect sense.

    Clearly, Gannett is a racist company - it is shutting out information to its most needy and underserved residents.

    And don't say they can "go to the library" and get online... those libraries are far too dangerous and computer terminals too few and far between.

  27. Racist? Please. This same population you are crying over DID NOT buy the paper or ahve it delivered to their homes. If they bought the paper the paper it wouldn't have had to go online. Racist my ass. The paper is still available in store outlets. They are losing money by the millions. This is a radical business decision no doubt, but racist. I don't think so. What a copp out. Calling a person or a company racist just ebcause you don't like something they did is in itself racist. Shame on you.

  28. To 3/30 at 2:36pm - "I fail to see how that catapults us into the digital age. We teach everyone to read it for free, cease to generate ad revenue and further hasten our demise. What am I missing?"

    You have correctly identified the Gannett model. There are other models to follow. But why should anyone be surprised at the Gannett model's outcome? It's succeeding as planned.


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