In bringing back Sunday TV mag, Star Tribune creates *print* paywall

As predicted in August, the Star Tribune is bringing back its Sunday TV magazine. If you think this is no big whoop, you’re right journalistically, but ask any circulation person, and they’ll tell you the November 2007 knifing of “TV Week” was a very big deal. With the Strib’s Sunday subscriptions plunging, this could slow the bleeding, or even boost revenues. And theoretically, revenue = journalists.

A couple of interesting facets to the mag’s return: it won’t be free to anyone, and it will be available to non-subscribers. “ON TV Magazine” will cost subscribers 69 cents per week, and non-subscribers can get it delivered for $1.39. Even though the TV mag concept is old, that’s a new revenue stream for a paper that needs some. It also keeps newsprint costs down since you’re only printing for a subset of paying customers.

As a subscriber, would I pony up 35 more bucks a year for the TV book? Hell, no. And I’m not sure how many non-subscibers would pay $72 a year, though the ON TV concept is not a new one — you can see how many cities already have it here. I’m sure the PiPress will once again remind folks it offers a free TV mag, though of course, you can’t get the paper in most of Minneapolis and the western ‘burbs.

What’s significant is that while we’ve spent many months talking about online paywalls, the Strib is, in effect, erecting a print paywall inside a print product subscribers already pay for. How long before there’s an upcharge for “bonus” news or sports coverage, say the Vikings or a “government extra”? I know, it seems crazy when papers already find it tougher to keep full-price buyers paying $200 for newsprint. But perhaps under certain circumstances, a paper could narrowcast and reap added bucks to add coverage for a subset who care.

The Strib will deliver ON TV magazine free December 6 and 13, then begin charging.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Joshua Abell on 11/16/2009 - 07:58 am.

    I don’t take the paper, but I think this is a neat idea. As is your idea of “narrow casting.” Make the paper a little bit more like Comcast – where If I don’t want something, don’t make me pay for it.

    Hear that ESPN? We’re comin’ for ya!

  2. Submitted by Paul Posel on 11/16/2009 - 10:59 am.

    Who will actually insert the new TV magazine into the Sunday newspaper and then get it to the correct subscriber? If it is left to the carrier, that should be interesting.

    Will the Star Tribune drop its daily listings to push readers toward the weekly magazine?

    By the way, Comcast automatically charges customers about $3 or so for a useless monthly magazine of listings, promotion of pay-per-view events and so-called editorial features. A total waste!

  3. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/16/2009 - 11:02 am.

    Smart move by the Strib. Hopefully none of their customers will figure out that the cost of receiving the Strib and their TV insert will now run about the same as hooking up your household to broadband and lord only knows how many free TV listing services, not to mention about a kajillion news sources.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/16/2009 - 11:28 am.

    “And theoretically, revenue = journalists.” It’s not a theory, grasshopper. No one would have a job without the efforts of the business side of operations!

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/16/2009 - 12:09 pm.

    The elimination of the tv magazine was something I never understood. It was the one piece of the Sunday newspaper we would keep around for a week, and we would frequently refer to it, making it an ideal advertising vehicle, I would have thought.

    Charging for it doesn’t make sense. The tv listings it contains are available elsewhere, including the Strib itself. Instead, they should just cram it with advertising.

  6. Submitted by Richard Parker on 11/16/2009 - 02:03 pm.

    “…perhaps under certain circumstances, a paper could narrowcast and reap added bucks to add coverage for a subset who care.”

    The Strib tried this in the mid-’90s with four tabloid “themed sections” that rotated weekly — Minnesota Life, Home & Garden, World & Nation and Books & Games. I was the editor of Books & Games. The idea was, as a commenter above suggests, to offer readers optional additional content at additional cost, like premium cable channels. Advertising was sought, but the goal was to have the sections supported largely by the readers who wanted the extra content. Participants in several focus groups told us they loved the tabloids and gave us high marks for quality, but that they wouldn’t pay extra for them. The company ended the experiment after 10 months. Home & Garden survived, evolving into a broadsheet Wednesday Variety section, because it was the only one drawing enough advertising to pay its own way.

  7. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 11/16/2009 - 03:27 pm.

    Separate TV listing mag in Sunday paper has left the station in my household. We get along quite nicely without it.

    Now, I would gladly pay a few cents extra to see the AMC Southdale movie listings once again. What happened to those?

  8. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/16/2009 - 03:45 pm.

    They lost my Sunday paper business when the Strib dropped the TV section. I pick up the Pioneer Press now instead.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/17/2009 - 10:41 am.

    Dean C (#6) — I was told that mega-chain AMC decided it could no longer afford to buy movie display ads. When the Minneapolis paper lost the ad revenue, it deleted AMC from its movie listings but the St. Paul paper did not.

    Since I don’t read either the Strib or the Pioneer Press every day, I pick up one of the Friday papers (for the movies and entertainment revues) and a Sunday paper (the PPress mostly for the TV magazine). Does this change mean the TV magazine will be available only with a home delivery subscription, which I’m not likely to buy?

  10. Submitted by frank watson on 11/17/2009 - 11:32 am.

    back in the day when I was a paperboy for the Minneapolis Tribune, if the TV weekly wasn’t in the Sunday paper, I heard about it. I haven’t had bought a Sunday StarTrib in years. I’m shocked to hear they had dropped it. Online users, http://www.titantv.com great TV and Cable listings you can customize.

  11. Submitted by Sheila Smith on 11/17/2009 - 02:04 pm.

    When the Strib got rid of the TV listings they did me a favor. I learned how to look up tv listings on the internet, which are free. The Strib keeps doing things that seem calculated to get me to stop subscribing. No way we will pay for this.

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