Friday, January 18, 2008


On the two Honolulu newspapers, print and online

by Larry Geller

For all you Costco members or those not yet members, the Honolulu Advertiser is offering a free membership, kind of.

Costco Advertiser Sub The other day I was shopping at Costco and noticed a big card with a 50% off Advertiser subscription. That's a mind blower. I recently renewed my sub for $209 for a year. Indeed, the Costco deal comes to only $100 for a year.

That's like putting $100 in your pocket. No small change!

I called the Advertiser to find out if I receive a refund for my unused paid subscription, and the answer is "yes." So I bought two Costco cards. And canceled my current sub, asking for a refund. Then I faxed in the new coupon. And my paper is still coming.

Several thoughts on this:

  • I have subscribed to the Advertiser for years and years. I resent that they are charging me double the rate they are offering to others. Where's the deal for loyal subscribers?
  • If someone is not a Costco member but thinking about it, and you're an Advertiser subscriber, here's your chance to get a couple of year's free Costco membership, if you'd like to think of it that way. You could join Costco and reduce your newspaper costs enough to pay for it, then enjoy the Costco membership for all the other good deals they offer.
  • Idle thought on profits. Do ads pay for the paper? What proportion? Obviously they are willing to forgo half the ordinary subscription price pretty easily.

Switching now to the Star-Bulletin. I'm glad there are two papers in Honolulu. Often enough, despite its smaller operation, the Star-Bulletin beats out the Advertiser on quality of reporting. Check the difference in the coverage of yesterday's tragic killing of a 2-year-old. I very much appreciated the S-B's story over the Advertiser's. Just my opinion, of course. That's just an example that was readily at hand. I can do without the S-B's right-wing diatribes, though, and their trick of putting conservative comics on the funnies page. So I won't subscribe. They telemarketed me for a $40 annual subscription last week and I said "no thanks."

But who needs to subscribe to the Star-Bulletin? They're giving it away free on buses and in Subway stores. I heard that some people got a free sub offer included in their phone bills (unverified). The S-B press run is limited, and my understanding is that they run the max even if it means giving the paper away. Yet they go on. A mystery, but again, I'm glad they are still here.

Ok, shifting to on-line. Gannett (Advertiser) obviously has the resources to move into a strong web presence, and they have done so. Blogs, reader comments, even steadily improving video coverage can be found on their Internet pages. It seems to be still a work in progress but I think they will do a good job of it. And supposedly, the on-line ad revenue will pay for all that. Internet advertising is growing while print stagnates.

There's a dirty little secret though, that all on-line newspapers have to contend with. Users are adopting ad-blocking software. It's getting darn easy to eliminate most ads. I don't see many ads at all when I surf the web. Less geeky folk can still eliminate a large number with browser add-ins or ad blocking features of many firewall or antivirus programs, or with specific ad-blocking software.

No doubt there will be a software war, with websites working to produce ads that can't be blocked, and ad-block software vendors working to block them. The New York Times Reader is an excellent bit of software and its ads can't be blocked (to my knowledge), but they charge money to use it. Perhaps other papers will offer similar software. Sites running videos include "commercials" in the videos, and those get through.

For those of us using browsers, though, we have options. Newspapers hoping to substitute on-line ad revenue for print ad revenue will have to deal with it.

Advertisers know about ad-blocking software, of course, and they also know that relatively few users are using it. As the software becomes more popular, though, there may be a falling out.

Is it cheating to block ads? I say no. It's not much different from scooping out all the ads tucked into your Sunday paper and chucking them into the garbage bag. That's pretty much what I do. It's my Constitutional right to throw away the ads. And I'll do the same on the Web, thank you.

Meanwhile, enjoy your Costco/Advertiser savings.


Hey, Larry, you are quoted in today's PBN! ;)

Aloha, Brad

Yeah, someone gave me a copy of the PBN article yesterday evening. I have an unfinished post on the weekly papers, PBN and Midweek. Good thing they quoted me before I posted it...

(Andy Parx)

The price of a newspaper has always been called a “nuisance fee”- charged for the dual purpose of not having people take one and just throw it away and so that they feel that the newspaper has value. But in the 60’s- 70’s the concept of TMC- total market coverage- came to prominence saying that advertisers would pay more if they knew that you were shoving your rag into every single mailbox or littering driveways.

But when the vultures took over newspapers they of course searched for every possible nickel and saw the price as a revenue stream. And with the circulation scandals in recent times- many including TMC operations and of course the new media models everything is up for grabs.

But yes, advertising pays most of the bills and it’s worth giving away subscriptions to pump up the subscriber numbers because that’s what advertisers look at over single copy and freebies. So even if you pay 1 dollar a year it shows up as “paid” in the legally required quarterly reports.

Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom at newspapers nowadays- if you really want to know more read Romenesko’s page at Poynter institute – they keep up with these kinds of things.

Thanks Andy -- and thanks for mentioning the Poynter Institute. I used to visit their website frequently, but fell out of the habit. So much to read, so little time...

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