Friday, August 21, 2009

A week into the Californian's new tab format: the sound, the fury and the (occasionally) rude.

It’s been almost a full week since The Californian introduced the new weekday tabloid paper. We’ve been pilloried, scolded and told we were taking a once proud franchise to the trash heap. One reader even went so far as to shred the paper, stuff it in a Ziploc bag and pay $2.58 to mail it to me accompanied by a nasty note. Anonymous of course.
But we’ve also heard from readers who love the new format, or if they don’t they understand what drove us to make such a drastic change. One of the dozens who called in to say they loved the new tab was Virginia, who wrote:

“After one week of reading the paper with the new format, I’ve decided that it’s a big improvement. Whether I stand at the kitchen counter or sit in a chair, physically managing the paper is so much easier. So if you are taking a tally, please put this subscriber in the ‘love it’ column.”

Love it or hate it, readers have not been shy about telling us what they think. And while I wish some of the emails had been a tad more civil in tone, I appreciate all of the input, however harsh or negative.
But it’s clear to me that some folks simply don’t understand why we did it, so let’s address some of the issues raised over the last week:

READER: Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone!
RB: I cannot emphasize enough the impact that this prolonged recession has had on our business. We cannot operate without advertising, and in any economic slump, traditional media companies (newspaper, TV, radio, cable, magazines, direct mail) are the first to suffer. To my knowledge virtually every media company in town has had layoffs or furloughs or cut back in some manner. For The Californian, some of our largest advertisers have simply gone out of business – Circuit City, Gottschalks, Mervyn’s, Linens ‘n Things among them – and with that hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Just as I am sure our readers have cut back at home, moving to a tabloid Monday through Friday is just one of the things our company has done to adjust to the times.

READER: We can no longer share the paper. Please go back to your old format so we can share the paper in the morning. This is going to cause a divorce!
RB: Unfortunately, a tabloid cannot be easily “sectioned” like the old broadsheet format. If we could do it, we would. We do offer a special, deeply discounted “second” home subscription for $2.99 a month – 10 cents a day to keep peace at home - though only a handful of folks have opted to take it.

READER: I seem to notice the advertisements more and they get in the way. Can’t you just put them in one section and just give me the news without all those ads?
RB: First, those advertisements allow us to stay in business, and without them, there would be no daily newspaper. One of our top goals was to design and position the advertisements so they would be more prominent, not less. We need to help our advertisers grow their businesses. These are local businesses, our neighbors, and we hope you support them. Without them, we have no business.

READER: You did this without even asking me if I’d pay more for the paper!
RB: While I appreciate that sentiment, our experience on pricing shows that this is an extremely price sensitive market. In the past when we have raised the home delivery price by as little as $1 a month, we have encountered a wave of cancellations. Based on a recent analysis, we’d have to charge between $60 and $70 a month for the price of a seven-day subscription to begin to offset the loss of advertising, and that simply isn’t reasonable.

READER: You’ve become a supermarket tabloid! You no longer have local stories!
RB: We remain committed to quality local journalism and in fact are trying to give you more local content, not less. While the supermarket tab has given tabloids a bad name, there are plenty of high quality news tabloids thriving throughout the country.

We have been heartened by the folks who say that while they might prefer the larger format, they’ll give the tabloid a chance. And many took to it immediately, appreciating its portability and the added emphasis on local stories.
For those of you who simply hate it, we hope you will give it some time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this long overdue candid explanation. I think the people of this great community, many of whom are suffering the effects of the poor economy, too, appreciate being given the truth and not just a song & dance about how "great" the new format will be. Perhaps if these reasons were foremost in the preceding weeks, folks would have been quicker to understand and accept the change. I hope these explanations make it to print. I am one of the earlist embracers of the new format. It arrived, I scrunched my nose, but after a few page turns... I loved it.

Mike C said...

I appreciate your concern for the local business community! We are hurting and need the best possible advertising position we can get to advertise or goods and services. I've read that people don't mind progress it's the change that is hard to acceept.

ALittleGuitar said...

Those are nice looking layouts. Keep it up!