In nearly two years of covering local media at MinnPost, one lament I still hear repeatedly is about the Strib dumping its weekly TV magazine. Even though then-new owners Avista Capital Partners knifed the section way back in November 2007, people inside and outside the Strib blame TV Week’s demise for acclerating the paper’s circulation decline.
But as Avista prepares to exit the scene, the Strib is pondering whether to revive its Tube Times.
A reader forwarded me an online survey the Strib is conducting; there are many interesting questions (more on that later), but one that jumped out was, “If a magazine with local TV listings was available in the area for 50 cents, how likely would you be to buy it every week?”
If fans were willing to put their money where their mouths are, they’d wind up shelling out $25 a year for the listings — nearly 10 percent of the Strib’s current subscription price.
Why would a struggling product try such a move? As MinnPost’s Joe Kimball reported in 2007, the section’s advertising was drying up and it was costing Avista a million bucks a year. If the million-dollar figure is still operative, the Strib would need 40,000 of its 530,000 or so subscribers to buy in.
As someone who regularly tossed the section in the recycling, I’m all for a la carte pricing in this case (though how long before they upcharge for sections I actually read?). Hard newsies often look down their noses at the frills, but the enduring passion on this one indicates TV listings are still a key building block for a mass audience. And newspapers retain enough fixed costs that they still need a mass audience.
The Strib is also playing with scenarios that involve general subscription increases, though I was recently told any decision won’t happen until after the paper safely exits bankruptcy this fall.
The survey does reference one potential price break: “If you were offered an incentive, such as a discount, to switch your method of paying for your subscription to an automatic monthly credit card charge, how interested would you be in that offer?”
This is good business — there’s much evidence that automatic renewals reduce subscription drops — though monthly only? Is the Strib that desperate for cash flow?