The circa 1980s record store rag is circling the wagons (and possibly the drain) under its spanking new fourth owner, while mounting a desperate attempt to make it through the most difficult business conditions the Pitch has ever faced in its more than 30 years of publishing.
Just how bad off are things now that former owner Nashville-based SouthComm has bailed after seven money-losing years?
Here’s longtime Pitch writer / newly appointed editor David Hudnall‘s take in his inaugural column:
“The bad news is that local media is a very difficult place to turn a buck. Over the last decade, Craigslist, Google, and Facebook have essentially destroyed the business model of publications like ours. We’re working with pretty limited resources over here.”
Not a pretty pic.
Even the deep pocketed Kansas City Star has struggled mightily (and unsuccessfully) with those same circumstances for decades. Unfortunately the Pitch is unlikely to have anywhere near that kind of time to figure out how to turn its red ink into black.
Which is a sad prospect for the city of Kansas.
If the current issue’s any indication, they’ve got their work cut out.
With only 48 pages in the January issue – 18 of which appear to be paid ads (with two of those looking suspiciously like trade rather than cash) – the Pitch is a long way from the 24 to 29 ad pages needed to – as Hudnall put it – to “turn a buck.”
Two other significant things worth noting: the core area nightclub and concert ads that have been the editorial and financial backbone of the Pitch lo these many years have all but disappeared. And trust me, that one really hurts.
The new owners need to pull out all the stops to try and lure them back into the fold if they hope to, again as Hudnall says, “continue to do all the same stuff we have always done.”
The thing the Pitch needs to stop doing that they always have is lose the half page of tacky sex ads in the mag’s calendar section.
Won’t be easy.
When you’re starving for cash it’s hard to turn away from your highest paying advertisers.
Advertisers that cause squeamish suburban moms to complain to retailers about distributing the Pitch in their shops and reataurants. And that make upscale advertisers like Tivol adverse to being seen in a zine that caters to low brow sex ads hawking telephone “playmates” and the “hottest gay chat.”
Running those cheesy ads is not a first amendment issue or hip thing to do. They need to go…perhaps to the Pitch’s website alongside “butt plug” loving columnist Dan Savage’s graphic sex columns.
So yeah, turning things around at the Pitch won’t be easy and chances are its 40-something owners have bitten off far more than they can chew…just as Village Voice Media and SouthComm did before.
That said, let’s give credit where credit is due…
In all likelihood the new Pitch owners are in it for the right reasons.
It’s highly unlikely they jumped into this unfortunate fray to “get rich quick.”
And giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe, just maybe they know something no one else in the free alt weekly publishing world knows, and if they can figure it all out things will be magical.
There certainly are plenty of ways to improve the Pitch journalistically. To that end, let’s hope that Hudnall’s wrong about his new bosses having “no interest in changing” and continuing “to do all the same stuff ” they’ve always done.
This is hardly a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
While turning things around won’t be easy, they can begin by further updating the online info box that shows Hudnall as the new editor but continues to list a weekly circulation of 45,000 copies “as of January 2011” and the owner as Village Voice Media (the company that tricked SouthComm into buying it seven years back.)
Best of luck guys…break a leg!