Hearne: Living on Borrowed Time? Pitch Owner Shutters Nashville Newsweekly

citypaper_finalThis is both scary and sad…

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.

6583318291_8622ab3982_b“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.

IMG_2583That ladies and gentlemen, is a motherfuck.

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.

IMG_2580Craig had told me he wanted to collect extra issues for posterity, so when I saw the two red boxes across the street from each other, I peeked in to see if there were any left.


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?

Probably not.

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.

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6 Responses to Hearne: Living on Borrowed Time? Pitch Owner Shutters Nashville Newsweekly

  1. Orphan of the Road says:

    I want to love The Pitch. Returning to KC in 03 after 30+-years in exile, it printed stories the Star and other media outlets wouldn’t touch. Heck, Night Ranger interviewed me an a friend for it. I guess two ol’ geezers sitting in Mike’s Tavern caught her attention.

    But the writing has fallen and the subject matter is more Weekly Reader for the self-proclaimed hipsters.

    Economics 101 says if a business fails but provided a needed service, another business will fill the void. Probably not in this case.

    The Ink has taken over amongst the music crowd but that is probably because Chris works his arse off promoting KC bands and events.

    • admin says:

      I’m not so sure that INK has the music crowd.

      Chris is cool, you are correct. But do you honestly believe anybody with a halfway hip bone in their body would be caught dead reading INK?

      I rest my case.

      • Orphan of the Road says:

        In a business since, no happy-ending ads and such make association easier for legitimate business.

        My assessment of the music crowd is based on observation and some participation. Too old to be any kind of authority on music.

  2. Sargent Stedenko Shriver says:

    hire writers, and people will read the pitch again. I think the star is too far gone, they’ll be firesold and bought by a hedge fund who will sell off the print building, and renegotiate benefits or drive it into a strategic bankruptcy to deal with all the old obligations such as pensions and health care for writers long past.

    The pitch is probably best off right now hiring a couple of new writers who can imitate the blender/pitchfork/vice style of snark, make a Google android app for the paper and sell it for 1.99.

    It seems like a community paper would be a great place to advertise. Maybe they are asking too much for adspace?

    • admin says:

      You’re missing the point.

      They ain’t got the money to hire writers. Or editors. Or much of anybody, and then at fire sale prices.

      They’re lucky to choke out 40 pages a week and their ad revenue is in the toilet. How do you make money when you’re running a losing proposition?

      Have you guys not been following all of this?

      The mighty Boston Phoenix just bit the dust for crying out loud and they were leagues above and beyond the Pitch in every measurable category.

      Printing and distributing a free alt weekly that younger readers don’t much care is a recipe for disaster.

      And they can’t make up for it with online advertising.

      It’s a bitch

  3. the dude says:

    Nobody wanted to touch that issue in fear of contracting the clap or some other random STD.

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