Small Business Question: How Much Longer Does My Local Paper Have?

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Local newspaper vendor

The sight of a rolled up newspaper in the driveway is an American icon. Newspapers have been a communication method for the masses for centuries. Each time there has been an advancement in technology such as radio or television, newspapers have taken a hit in circulation. Yet before the development of the internet newspapers were still strong. We have of course seen a decline in newspaper circulation during the last 10 years, and many have been predicting the demise of newspapers. But this year my local paper put two nails in their own coffin.

As a small business owner I know that my business will continue to change and that in order to stay in-business my business has to change. Over the years my regional paper, The Orange County Register, has changed too. For many years they operated their own cable channel, Orange County News, but that closed in 2002 after a 10 year run. Declining profits due to the increased popularity of satellite t.v. service and the Internet sealed their fate. As small community papers started to fail the Register started buying them up and delivering co-branded community papers once a week inside the main paper.

Through it all I have maintained my subscription to newspaper. I liked reading it with breakfast, and my wife liked the coupons. But a few months ago my subscription came due and I was shocked when the renewal bill said $383. I had only paid $157 the year before, and the year before that. I called, believing it was some mistake, but no. Apparently I was getting a ‘discount’ in the previous years that they were not offering any longer. In the end I opted for the Sunday-only delivery option at $90 a year. That was the first nail this year.

The second one came a few weeks ago when the Register announced that they were ‘co-branding’ their business section with something called thestreet.com. This ‘co-branding’ allows the Register to cut costs by importing news from an outside source. This arrangement is only, for now, to provide national business news for the Register. But how long will it be until my paper outsources more of its content? And what would be the point of keeping it when it does?

When NetFlix attempted to raise its price and cut its service earlier this year the backlash from subscribers was immediate and significant. In 2008 the Register took the unethical step of outsourcing layout work to India, as reported by wired.com. I didn’t learn this until writing this article and as a result won’t be renewing my Sunday only subscription for the Register when it expires later in 2012.

Business changes, and your small business has to change to keep up. But when you make those changes make sure that they are changes for the better and don’t make things worse. As for me, I would be very surprised if by the end of this decade The Register is still tossing rolled up newspapers in anyone’s driveway.

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