And in the case of the Sun Newspapers, it looks like it’s about to set on a an unspecified number folks living in the wilds of Johnson County, Kansas. Because after 60 years of distributing its weekly newspapers free-of-charge (if you don’t count the panhandling platoons of school kids the Sun used to enlist for door-to–door guilt tripping), some Sun readers are now being asked to pay up or the Sun says it will shut up.
"Dear Sun Reader," begins an August 20th letter from co-publisher Steve Rose, son of Sun founder, Stan Rose. "Due to significant proposed postage increases for newspapers, we regret we must ask you to make a choice. You can continue to receive The Johnson County Sun for $19.95 per year (38 cents per issue) or $24.95 for two years (24 cents per issue)."
Severe consequences await Sun spotters who opt not to ante up.
"Or, I’m sorry to inform you that we must cease delivery of the Sun to your home, effective with our Oct. 6 issue," Rose continues. "The deadline for payment is Sept. 30, 2010…We hope you have enjoyed our award-winning newspaper and will continue to be one of our loyal readers."
A check with the Sun’s circulation department revealed that for the time being, the Wednesday Sun on the KCMO side will continue to be delivered to driveways and other pick up points in south Kansas City. Free of charge, that is. But the JoCo edition is mail only, not driveway drop.
So might the once-mighty Johnson County Sun be on its last legs? Can any newspaper – let alone what’s left of the Sun – change business models from free to paid subscription–in the midst of the worst recession in many people’s lifetimes?
Not to worry, Rose says. The letters were sent "selectively" as an "experiment.
So we’ll see.
But frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine even 5 or 10 percent of Sun subscribers coughing up the cash. And advertisers would leave in droves were the Sun’s circulation (which is unaudited by the way) to plummet after the non-payers were excommunicated.
So while Rose’s blunt doomsday letter was mailed selectively at this point, it’s clearly an example of the tough times facing the newspaper industry.
The real question is, if nobody antes up – short of shutting the paper down – what will Plan B be.
And if everybody comes across with the cash – or great numbers of "Sun readers" – look for a "Dear Sun" letter in a mailbox near you!