After years of hand wringing over how thin the ice is at Kansas City alternative newsweekly The Pitch, the worrisome point was driven home again today when Pitch parent SouthComm announced it was folding it’s Nashville weekly The City Paper.
“After 13 years, The City Paper will cease operations with the publication of its Friday, Aug. 9 issue,” reads an item on City Paper‘s website posted shortly before 9 a.m. this morning. “Chris Ferrell, CEO of SouthComm, made the announcement to employees this morning.”
SouthComm, you may recall, purchased what was left of the Pitch two years ago from Village Voice Media, which had been trying to fire sale the paper off for years.
Prior to that the journalistic rats had been scurrying off the Pitch’s sinking ship at a rapid clip – some by choice, others via plank walking – with longtime editor C.J. Janovy leading the charge.
“In the last few days, we made the difficult decision to stop publishing The City Paper,” Ferrell said. “After years of being subsidized by our investors and other Southcomm publications, we finally determined that there was not enough advertiser support for the free newsweekly model we were trying to sustain. The model proved very popular with readers, but in publishing the revenue doesn’t necessarily follow the readership.
“Ferrell said that the tough climate for advertising dollars made having multiple news properties extremely difficult, particularly a general interest publication like The City Paper. A portion of the staff will be laid off while others will be redeployed to other SouthComm publications.”
The City Paper will close August 9th.
While SouthComm’s hipper Nashville Scene is still in play, the fundamental economics of print publishing targeting younger readers remains.
Unlike most dailies, the Pitch has to pay the piper to print its 40,000 or so weekly issues (from which the lion’s share of its ad revenues are derived) without the benefit of having paid subscribers to soak up those costs.
Compounding that is the fact that while fewer and fewer younger readers gravitate toward print pubs – where most Pitch advertiser’s ads appear – online revenues don’t come close to paying the bills.
And since that’s where younger readers increasingly go to read the Pitch, they miss most of those print ads.
Example: I had dinner two weeks ago on 39th Street a block east of State line. It was the last night of the Craig Glazer Pitch cover. The night before the next week’s edition hit the street.
There were like 100 or so issues per box that still hadn’t been picked up. And that’s in one of the hippest corridors in KC, a mere block from KU Med Center, no less.
Begging the question, if they can’t give away the print Pitch in that hood, where can they?
From my experience, having set up the Pitch distribution network and system, they monitor weekly returns and attempt to adjust distribution to maximize efficiencies. In other words to have as few returns as possible.
So was it Craig on the cover that resulted in the unpicked up Pitches?
More likely it’s because older readers pick up print pubs far more than younger people do.
We even found that to be the case in the earliest days of researching Pitch readership in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And that’s when the Pitch was in it’s least mainstream, most tragically hip form.
The largest reader segment then was people who also read the Kansas City Star.
Needless to say, we were not thrilled by that statistic, but think what it must be now, the Pitch having become so much more mainstream.
The Pitch today is looking far better (albeit dangerously thinner) than the Pitch just prior to Village Voice bailing.
That said, it’s time for all of us to cross our fingers.