Detroit goes with the Thurs-Fri-Sun print-edition model

By Steve Outing

The speculation ended quickly enough. Detroit newspaper executives announced today their plan to (they hope) survive the industry crisis with two newspapers intact by implementing the following in spring 2009:

  • Print the Detroit Free Press (Gannett-owned) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
  • Print the Detroit News (MediaNews Group-owned) on Thursdays and Fridays.
  • Paid digital-replica subscription service on other days (part of home-delivery subscribers’ accounts).
  • Paid thinner editions sold on newsstands on other days.
  • Talk of “expanding digital information channels that provide news and information to a variety of audiences when, where and how they want it.”

Full details are available at Romenesko.

My critique:

  • Paid editions on the non-home-delivery days is a mistake. Younger people will not, for the most part, pay for these on the newsstand. So this does nothing to address the problem of newspaper print editions’ aging demographic (average age, over 50). The Detroit papers have a chance at reaching younger people (who will not subscribe for home delivery) if they make scaled-back FREE editions available at newsstands, coffeeshops, malls, libraries, colleges and universities, etc. That can increase overall readership of the off-day print editions, and serve as a strong marketing vehicle to get more traffic to the papers’ various websites.
  • I think Martin Langeveld is right in suggesting that instead of a Sunday edition, the Free Press have a “weekend” edition published and made available on Saturday.
  • The Detroit newspapers press release made much of a strategy to improve its websites and go after more niche markets on the web. That’s fine, but I spotted one tiny mention of mobile services. To hit the younger audience, mobile must be a huge part of the digital strategy. Smartphones (a la the iPhone) are about to become ubiquitous.
  • I’ve never been a fan of digital-replica editions. Giving that away to home-delivery subscribers is fine, but I think most folks will just read the web or mobile editions, which are designed for their respective formats, while digital-replica for a computer screen is an annoying user experience. I don’t expect to see much in the way of non-print subscribers paying for the digital-replica editions.
  • This plan is designed to have no layoffs in newsroom staff (but cost cuts in other areas such as production and circulation). I very much doubt the publishers will stick to that. I predict free off-day editions will come as a later decision; those will be thinner; and less staff will be required.

Overall, I view the reduction in home-delivered print editions as a necessary step in the evolution of newspapers in metro markets. But reading through the press release from the Detroit publishers, I don’t feel optimistic. Expect to see the announced plan tweaked fairly quickly, and the no-layoff pledge be temporary. (I hope I’m wrong.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!