Monday, June 10, 2013

Tallahassee | Sunday back to $2, with an apology; price reduction followed 15% circulation decline

In a blog post today, Executive Editor Bob Gabordi writes about the Tallahassee Democrat's "big" mistake in conjunction with the Gannett-wide launch of paywalls last year.

"In the face of expanded readership, a year ago April we raised the price of the Sunday newspaper to $3 in vending machines and retail outlets," he writes. "We have since reduced the price to $2, but we did so quietly, and without saying we were sorry for the miscalculation."

Gabordi doesn't detail the price increase's impact on circulation. But the paper's overall Sunday sales -- including home delivery -- dove 15% to an average 39,685 copies by the end of last year from 46,801 in 2011, according to GCI's annual reports. That was a significant decline when Corporate was focused on shoring up Sunday circulation across the U.S. newspaper division.

Indeed, among all the U.S. community dailies, only Missouri's Springfield News-Leader reported a bigger rate of Sunday decline: 16%, to 52,958 from 63,413 in 2011. (This excludes the Detroit Free Press, where data in the annual reports show a near-doubling of Sunday circulation that I can't immediately explain.)

Division-wide, Sunday fell an average 3% last year from 2011 (again, excluding Detroit), according to the annual reports.

Nonetheless, overall circulation revenue rose 5% last year to $1.1 billion, because Corporate raised subscription prices an average 25% when the paywalls were introduced. That more than made up for lost circulation volume.

Your site's numbers
Other GCI newspapers raised newsstand prices on Sunday when their paywall was turned on. Has your site also backed away from its increase?

This spreadsheet shows daily and Sunday circulation for 2012 vs. 2011 for 80 U.S. dailies.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. The Brevard Sunday is now down to under 50,000. Rumored numbers is a 30 percent fall off of single copy with reality numbers closer to 40. Between the 3 dollar price alone, combined with the competitor only going to 2 dollars, and less local driven content,another self made disaster.

    They've had 1.99 pricing for Sunday at a few supermarkets but it's too little too late. They've pissed off all the regulars.

  2. Detroit's numbers are easily explained in the report. Their strategy is being copied in USCP. Another example of how the biggest USCP member is leading the company.

  3. The numbers for Brevard showing circ. numbers is actually what was printed. Where do they get their numbers I wonder!

  4. Sees the "intensive" research conducted to determine price was wrong. There were a few good people that were the scapegoats for declining circulation volumes due to the HD and SC pricing mandated from corporate with no local input.
    I am still an avid supporter of Gannett, but the CSS leadership dropped the ball in a major was on the implemention of this and several good people were forced out.

  5. PLease be aware these are total circ numbers, not just single copy.

    1. Indeed, I'm aware that these are total circulation numbers. The figures from the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the ABC) don't break out newsstand sales alone.

      But you can be assured that, if overall Tallahassee circulation is down 15%, then newsstand/vending sales have fallen by a much bigger rate.

    2. Absolutely.
      I pass by locations that used to have boxes.
      They're almost all gone.

      This man has single-handedly destroyed the paper's reputation in town. He is extremely disliked in the community. In fact, the local morning talk show host has a long-running feud with him because of all the shortcomings (pun intended) of missed and/or biased reporting under this editor's so-called leadership.

      IOW, he's a typical Gannett editor.

      Note: To post this, the Captcha feature asked me to type in "superficial". How ironic!

  6. Before their paywall went up July 2010, they were getting 13-14M pageviews per month down there. It fell off the cliff to under 5M/month thereafter, and is now about 4M/month.

    Not even White House spinmeister Jay Carney could call that "growth." During Gabordi's tenure, the newsroom has droppped to about two dozen FTEs. They used to have almost 100 in the late '90s. How much longer can they justify occupying such a cavernous edifice?

    And to add insult to injury, they're not even the leading provider of online news in their locale. Check the hard facts by comparing their metrics to the market leader, WCTV:

    They're getting beat on every metric.
    Especially "reputation."
    Corporate is totally asleep at the wheel, allowing this cancer to grow.

  7. Two more pices of data needed: price increase for HD and for Single Copy AND date of price increases. Some of these losses were without any price increase. Those papers demonstrate the losses that may have happened anyway or be papers with additional CS or content issues.

  8. This begs the question: Are there pricing adjustments coming at other locations? I know Springfield fought the price hike to $3 on Sundays, correctly predicting the results would be disastrous. But corporate wouldn't budge. After a year of plummeting Sunday circulation, do they go back and fix it?

    Not that it matters anyway. Once you chase people off and they get in the habit of not buying something, and they realize they really aren't missing anything, a price cut is almost never enough to bring them back.

  9. People here are just disgusted with the paper. For the most part they got used to the jump from 50 cents to 75 for the dailys. When it then went to a dollar, the content also started being taken away. That brainstorm started the ball falling off the cliff fast. Then came the 3 dollar Sunday when the competition went to 2 dollars. That, along with the Sunday magazine shrinking to near nothing, some content disappearing, coupons not being in the paper...and believe me the people know when and what SHOULD be there...

    I've witnessed the slide our paper has taken and am sad to say most of it is by their own doing, with Gannett's help of course. There still is a good enough market to make and sell a decent heads be damned...they just have to want to.

  10. I can't tell you what they did at my local paper after papers prices almost doubled I stopped buying it and haven't checked to see if they reduced it again. i still see this as a Netflix kind of business in that Netflix tried to kill off it's DVD by mail in order to drive customers to streaming. The same argument was used. Streaming is the way of the future and DVD rental is dead. Well Redbox came in and proved them wrong. Netflix went back to offering DVD by mail only again. Now you can choose either way by mail or streaming or both. Gannett won't offer a print only subscription and that is causing a loss of subscribers that don't want both. They raised prices Single Copy prices and cut service. Dickey claims they only lost 10 percent circulation in print and that exceeds the twenty percent loss they were expecting. But that was only for the year. Circulation and revenue will further decline as customers are fed up. Digital supporters will say they might have lost those customers anyway. GPS has further eroded customer loyalty by not offering redelivery service and driving out long time employees. Analyst are asking where is the revenue that they expect in digital to make up for the loss in print. Gannetts answer is it is coming. What they should have done is focus on maintaining print revenue while increasing revenue from digital at the same time. Never a good strategy to want less business. It would be like Yum brands closing down Taco Bells in order to drive up sales at KFC. another thing Netflix is now doing is creating it's own content. That has helped push up new subscriber numbers. Hint, hint.

  11. The idea of digital VS. print is/was wrong to begin with. Both products have their place with different markets. If they truly wanted a digital only company they should have started one instead of gutting print they way they have.

  12. I don't think the problems with the Democrat have much to do with a paywall at all. It's a lack of quality journalism and poor commitment to being the kind of newspaper a community should crave. I don't even recognize the newspaper I loved to read as recently as eight years ago because so many good journalists have been forced out since Gannett took over for what appears to be Bob Gabordi's hand-picked minions. But if Gannett believes he's a good editor that tells me all I need to know about Gannett. I realize things are tough for newspapers all over, but the Democrat appears to be on a suicide mission.


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