Alternative weeklies–our city’s free arts and entertainment newspapers–are facing untenable marketplace conditions today. The papers rely on advertising revenue from bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and retail stores. Given that all of the above are temporarily closed for business, there is next to no ad revenue coming in the door today.
Joshua Benton at NeimanLab paints the situation like this:
…alt-weeklies have been in some version of crisis mode for the better part of a decade, like smartphones, online events listings, and social media have each moved against their core offerings. It’s entirely unclear whether ‘normal’ is two weeks away, two months away, or two years away. And when cities do recover, will those institutions that alt-weeklies rely on — those arts venues, those theaters, those restaurants — be in any kind of shape to help?
The word that comes to mind: BRUTAL.
Let’s hear from The Austin Chronicle’s editor, Kimberely Jones:
Local news outlets – many of them small, independent businesses like the Chronicle – are reeling. Our fellow alt-weeklies are bleeding out, with mass layoffs announced and some even closing their doors for good. As we announced last week, the Chronicle is moving for the next six weeks from a weekly to a biweekly print production schedule; what you’re reading now marks our first digital-only issue in the history of the paper.
But cutting printing costs is not enough to make up for the staggering loss of advertising. On Monday, we reduced hours for most of our staff of 44, across every department.
It hurts. It had to be done. It’s bad. It’s really bad. It could have been even worse.
Precariousness from sea to shining sea. A staffer at Austin’s alt-weekly was also diagnosed with COVID-19, making matters all the more real and frightening.
In Seattle, The Stranger’s editor explains:
Due to the hellscape of unforeseen economic events brought on by the coronavirus, The Stranger temporarily laid off 18 employees today…(Because) Ninety percent of The Stranger’s revenue comes from people being able to gather in public—in rock clubs, theaters, museums, restaurants, bars, etc.—and many of our advertisers are shutting down operations as social-distancing measures go into effect across the region.
The word that comes to mind: F’UGLY.
In Related News, Paywalls Are Dropping
In order to provide essential news on the COVID-19 outbreak, many (but not all) newspapers of record are temporarily lifting their paywalls. At the same time, newspapers are now gaining subscribers.
Mark Katches, the Executive Editor of the Tampa Bay Times, said his news outlet was one of the first to move virus stories outside its paywall. Despite the ability to read those stories without paying, people are buying digital subscriptions at double or triple the usual rate, he said.
“The irony of this crisis is that local news organizations are simultaneously experiencing a huge spike in demand for their journalism and a crippling blow to the advertising and events revenue that helps sustain them,” said Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
All of this leads me to ask when was the last time you made or placed a print ad in a newspaper?