The current state of Kansas City "alt weekly" the Pitch?
It’s painfully obvious to pretty much anyone who’s been watching that print publications are fighting a losing battle. A battle for their lives. Which isn’t to say that the Kansas City Star, for example, is going to just blow away. At some point in time the stronger pubs will downsize themselves into a long-term model that affords profitability.
Oh, it won’t be pretty. Just as it hasn’t at 18th and Grand these past three years. It will get there though, and if the economy rights itself, they may even begin adding bodies. However in the long run, it’s just too costly to print and distribute hundreds of thousands of newspapers each day, and fewer and fewer people – younger people – have an appetite to hold a physical paper in their hands.
The problem, as most of you probably know, is nobody’s come close to figuring out how to make anywhere near the profits online that they’ve been making in print.
So those in the print pub biz, it’s beyond scary.
Take the once-mighty Newsweek, which hadn’t made a profit since 2007, lost $30 million in 2009 and was sold off last year by the Washington Post to a 91 year-old audio guru for a measly buck. That’s right, $1 and take over payments.
Now back to the Pitch….
The Star and Newsweek have paid subscriber bases. And that means quite a bit more to advertisers because their circulations go to people who are paying for the privilege of reading the publications.
With freebie publications like the Pitch no one really knows. The mags may or may not get read. Sure some people pick them up and read them cover to cover. But just as many – perhaps more – grab one at a bar or restaurant, glimpse at the sex ads or concert listings and ditch them at the first distraction that comes along.
The bottom line being readers have no skin in the game – no out of pocket cost. They may read all or part of it if something catches their eye and they have time. Or they may not.
Meanwhile the Pitch – with no subscription money coming in – must make all of its income by selling ads.
This is where it gets dicey.
Like newspapers and magazines, fewer folks are picking up and reading alt weeklies like the Pitch. Especially younger readers. Naturally that’s not something the Pitch is wildly forthcoming about.
"Every week, 45,000 copies of The Pitch disappear from our racks across the metro area," reads its advertising pitch. "Where do they go? Into the eager hands of a young, professional, hard-to-reach audience that regards the paper’s advertisers as an important part of the reading experience. They have disposable income. They don’t read the dailies. They’re a captive audience to your marketing message."
Even in the earliest years, Pitch studies revealed that its biggest overlap in readers was with the Star. And how young does anybody think that audience is?
The fact is, older folks are the ones who pick up and read print pubs, and when you make them widely available, that’s who’s gonna pick a lot of them up.
Maybe not at the Record Bar or Riot Room or Beaumont Club, but with 1,800 largely mainstream distribution points, you can bet beaucoup Baby Boomers are picking up Pitches every week. What’s more, depending upon the location and content, many go unpicked up, as commenter’s on KCC have noted in the past.
So we’re looking at an aging print readership, combined with an economy that has the once mighty Village Voice (New Times) ownership divesting itself of publications. Along with the same predicament about not making enough money online to support operations without cutting staff and expenses.
Get real; longtime Pitch editor CJ Janovy didn’t bail last year to fulfill a lifelong dream of getting into PR.
With degrees in English and creative writing, Janovy was stunningly under qualified for a director of communications gig she landed at KU Med. A position that usually requires a degree in communications or journalism and experience in public relations.
Check out salary.com’s job requirements for a communications director with a median salary of $124,000.
"Requires a bachelor’s degree with at least 10 years of experience in the field. Familiar with a variety of the field’s concepts, practices, and procedures. Relies on extensive experience and judgment to plan and accomplish goals."
None of which Janovy possesses.
More recently Pitch top reporting gun Nadia Pflaum gave notice to go to work for a non-profit group that "provides pro bono legal and investigative services to the innocent in prison."
While that move actually makes sense, it’s also a sign of a quality employee leaving a sinking ship.
Now an out-of-towner will embark upon the difficult transition from profitability in print to profitability period.
It won’t be easy.
"The days of the alternative newsweeklies as we knew them are over," says one Pitch veteran. "Alternative newsweeklies used to be really cool and fun and real, true alternatives to the dailies. Today I don’t know what they are. I mean Ink isn’t an alternative newspaper."
Therein lies another of the Pitch’s problems.
As vacuous as Star stepchild Ink is, it chokes out roughly 50,000 copies of what probably comes closer to appealing to younger readers – albeit vacuous younger readers – than the Pitch. That there’s so little serious, halfway-useful news content in Ink places it in a class by itself.
That said, with the clout of the Star propelling Ink, it’s undoubtedly taken a revenue toll on the hippie-ish Pitch. A toll that likely hastened Village Voice dumping it off on out-of-town owners.
Can the new guys make a go of it? Is there a course ahead that may keep the wolf away from the Pitch‘s door until somebody can figure out how to make enough money online to sustain it?
For starters, getting more actual news with edge and humor would help. It’s not like the Pitch has to compete with Ink on that front. And dialing back many – if not most – of the exceedingly long cover stories Village Voice has been jamming down reader’s throats the past dozen years is a no-brainer.
Hiring an editor and/or publisher with some sort of passion for and connection to Kansas City wouldn’t hurt. As opposed to another editor or publisher who really doesn’t like it here or is looking at KC as a stepping store to somewhere else. Someone with an ear to the ground and street smarts.
One wild card: the Pitch’s new Nashville owner publishes some of its alt papers on coated paper stock.
In other words, glossy, like a city magazine, only bigger. If it pursues that course here, combined with some editorial retooling, that could give the Pitch an upscale edge. Plus it would take a few bucks out of the pocket of its competitor, since the Star prints both the Pitch and Ink while owning Ink.
So we’ll see…