Monday, December 17, 2018


Is the Honolulu Star-Advertiser caught in a death spiral?

by Larry Geller

The cost of a subscription to Honolulu’s only daily newspaper, the Star-Advertiser, has drastically increased over the past two years. At the same time, the staff has been reduced and the number of pages has been reduced when compared to better years. Last Tuesday’s edition was just 35 pages.

We all know that retail advertising revenue is way down. Advertising sections previously included K-Mart, Toys-R-Us and others from stores that have either closed or that no longer advertise regularly. Trump’s tariff war should drive up the cost of newsprint.

Without ads, the only recourse is to increase the subscription rate to home and business subscribers. But what happens when that price becomes unaffordable?

I firmly believe in the value of local journalism and a vibrant local newspaper.

Having said that, what is the value of a print subscription in real US dollars? Many Hawaii residents live on a limited income and already make tradeoffs of food vs. rent vs. medicine. Others are seniors or those with disabilities living on a fixed income.

I was shocked to receive my renewal bill earlier this month: $488.80, an increase of 44.6 percent over last year’s rate. If the same increase should hold in the coming year, that would be a subscription cost of $706.80.

Plotly Char of increase -a

Next year could be the breaking point for me – and for many other subscribers as well. There’s a limit.

The question I now face is whether I renew this year. I really don’t know what to decide.

Here’s the data, starting from December 2014. The rightmost column is my calculation of the renewal cost if the annual percentage increase remains the same as this year.

I didn’t go beyond 2019 for two reasons: (1) my projection is purely conjectural, and (2) there may not be a newspaper in 2020.

It’s a death spiral if the increases continue.



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