Slipping circulation and the decline in readership by key demographics at the Kansas City Star present a gloomy scenario that far exceeds the effects of the current economic bust. Like most media, revenues will improve when better times return but the ongoing shift by advertisers (and readers) to other delivery mechanisms will continue to erode profits at the newspaper, resulting in more and more cutbacks and downsizing.
Think of it as a variation of what Star cartoonist Lee Judge told an assembly of locals at a KC Public Library talk shortly after he learned that he had been laid off by the newspaper along with myself and sports columnist Jeff Flanagan.
“Daddy is a blacksmith,” Judge said he told his kids when he went home on that dark day.
Translation: the times they are a changing. Just as horseless carriages replaced the once-mighty horse, the electronic media is ripping away at the financially luctrative monopoly newspapers have held more than a century.
Price Chopper, for example, recently migrated the distribution of much of its weekly print flyers to direct mail, owing to waning Star circulation and its desire to reach more area households.
“The same problems Price Chopper has been having with the lack of circulation, all the grocery stores are having, says Mail-Sort’s Steve Laningham. “HyVee has 600,000 homes that they’re going to mail to so that’s three times the circulation of the Star. Hen House has 370,000 homes on their list that they want to mail to.”
Forget the “million readers” the Star often touts. At best the newspaper reaches 200,000 addresses on most days and Laningham projects that number may be closer to 180,000 when new circulation numbers come out.
“They’re losing about 10 percent of their readership a year,” Laningham says.
Which poses a substantial problem to grocers wanting to reach each and every customer in range of their outlets in a Greater Kansas City population estimated at 2 million people.
“The grocery stores want to make sure everyone is getting their ads, not just newspaper subscribers,” Laningham says. “And we have an election coming up next year, and the presidential election in two years, and we all know they’re going to be very polarizing elections. And some people don’t want to continue to subscribe to a paper because of its politics. It may not be a big percentage, but even if it’s 5 percent it adds up.
“And let’s face it,