Bad day to kill print in Detroit/Is there an e-reader future?

The irony gods were working double time yesterday. The biggest news day in Detroit for years (GM chairman axed, Chrysler and Fiat and big hoop news) was the day that its two newspapers ended their home delivery service and the web couldn’t cope.

You can’t make stuff like that up. The Gannett owned Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, owned by MediaNews Group, had until last week been landing on the doormats of Motor City residents like they have for years, but Detroit’s two papers are in bad shape and costs had to be cut, bringing an end to home delivery.

Since 1990 Detroit News has seen its circulation tumble 64.4% and the Detroit Free Press 53.12%. Between them they have lost 660,000 plus copies and the future is grim; for the papers and the city so closely linked to the US car industry.

Then comes the brave new dawn of no more home delivery Monday and a hammer blow is struck at the city and at the American newspaper industry.

Such a juicy news day: The White House pushing out GM CEO Rick Wagoner; pushing for Chrysler to merge with Fiat; and Michigan State University basketball team making the Final Four.

It was a real D-Day of news, a real Day of Days, but nothing on the doorsteps. The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News were sending readers online, but it is not the same for some.

One reader, Nancy Nester, 51, a program coordinator at a traumatic brain injury centre who subscribed to both papers for four years, told the New York Times: “This morning, I felt like something was missing. There was this feeling of emptiness.”

Let’s call it the print gap.

The thing is she didn’t go to the store and buy a copy as “I don’t have time to stop at the store. That’s why I have home delivery”.

Instead of home delivery on Monday, The News and The Free Press distributed half a million free copies of a condensed print edition before it is back to the 50 cent cover price today.

The two want people not only to go to the web, but to the e-editions of the papers. At the moment these are free, but soon e-editions will be for paying customers only.

I have never had much time for e-editions. I know there are some good ones out there, but the whole process of trying to reproduce a facsimile of a paper product online seems like a waste of time to me. I don’ t like reading them (on a monitor at least). Give me the web or the real thing.

That said, maybe Amazon’s Kindle will change that. Maybe there are those out there who will pay a subscription fee to read their daily newspaper on an e-reader. Even me, I could see THAT happening and I could see people parting with some cash and some cash is better than no cash.

Some people already like them that way, but with as many as 50,000 people trying to click on the e-editions in Detroit yesterday, five times as many as usual, the NY Times goes onto report that the computers “delivering the e-editions could not keep up on Monday morning, and many people were unable to load them”.

“We had an overwhelming — literally overwhelming — number of people trying to get onto the e-edition site this morning, and it’s gratifying on one hand, but it slowed things down,” said Jonathan Wolman, editor and publisher of The News, which is owned by MediaNews Group.

For one generation the jump to an e-edition is clearly too much, but for another there is always Jean-Luc Picard.



  • Brian Millar

    I’ve never understood why American magazines are so brilliant and their newspapers are like something out of the 19th century. The Pulitzer has a lot to do with it, rewarding 15 000 word articles that nobody reads: a large part of the New York Times is vanity publishing.

    There’s a lot that US newspapers can do to improve. Create more national editions. It’s the parochial local newspapers that are getting swept aside. The days when The Cleveland Plain Dealer could afford its own foreign correspondents – are over.

    But as a recent article in The American points out, “For 18- to 29-year-olds, the numbers were 59 percent Internet, 28 percent newspapers, and 59 percent TV. The missing fact here is that “the news” is pretty much all from the newspapers, either from their own websites, or via their subsidiary the AP. The news biz has not really lost its readers; it just lost its ability to monetize them.”

    It’s hard to imagine the internet without newspapers as news sources… where’s the Spotify for news?

    BTW Americans have been proclaiming the death of newspapers since the 18th century, as the New Yorker recently pointed out.

  • Mark Tomkins, TDA

    Did you see this quote from The Wire’s David Simon (Guardian, Weekend)?

    ‘…The collapse of the US newspaper industry has left politicians free to pursue their unethical schemes unscrutinised. “The internet does froth and commentary very well, but you don’t meet many internet reporters down at the courthouse… Oh to be a state official in America over the next 10 to 15 years, before somebody figures out the business model. To gambol freely across the wastelands of an American city as a local politician! It’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption.”‘

  • Gordon Macmillan

    Brian and Mark your comments dove tail. American journalism can take itself very seriously and the overly long waffling nature of some of it is a peculiarity to the States. I think it takes itself so seriously as that role of protecting against “unethical schemes” is a pillar of its existence, it holds itself up to quite lofty ideals, at a regional and local level. I think the same thing exists in the UK, but the approach and feel is different. More down and dirty. Certainly less wordy.

    There is one thing that unites them all – they’re all in trouble.

  • accident settlements

    I have read about this one in my research –
    “One reader, Nancy Nester, 51, a program coordinator at a traumatic brain injury centre who subscribed to both papers for four years, told the New York Times: “This morning, I felt like something was missing. There was this feeling of emptiness.”"

  • Mark Griffiths

    A timely warning. Most of our clients are good to us, as a small business and pay after 30 days. In turn, we allow some of our smaller clients to pay us in installments. Occasionally, some of the creative agencies we work with can take up to 60 days to pay us – presumably because they’re now affected by these late payment pushbacks. But we certainly couldn’t cope with payment beyond 60 days. Whatever happened to the days of a half-payment up front?!

  • Chris Arnold

    When I left Saatchi’s in 2002 and started FEEL we demanded 50% up front. Only one client had a problem and it wasn’t a big one – we had MoreThan and AOL, both good payers.  By the time we’d merged to form BLAC, 3 years later, no one was willing to pay 50% up front.  But today try and get 50% after 30 days!!

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