Beginning Monday, both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News will limit home delivery of their print editions to Thursday, Friday and Sunday — the most popular days among advertisers — only. The paper will still be available at newstands and other retail outlets seven days a week. It just won’t be available to subscribers at home. At the time the change was announced in December, the Free Press reported that “the moves would allow both papers to maintain their news-gathering forces, shift resources to their Web sites, develop new ways to deliver information digitally, enhance multimedia offerings — and, for the foreseeable future, keep Detroit one of the nation’s few remaining two-newspaper towns.”
It’s an interesting and innovative way to combat declining readership and circulation rates for print editions, cut costs and focus attention on online news content without cutting budgets or newsroom staff. But I’m still not sure how to feel about it. The shift towards online news content is obvious and inevitable at this point, but I’m an old-fashioned girl. I have an intimate relationship with my newspaper. I like to hold it in my hands, unroll it, pull out the ads, fold it my own way and curl up on the couch with it. But it seems that it’s less and less likely that I’ll be able to interact with my paper that way as I get older.
However, I appreciate the commitment by Detroit Media Partnership — which publishes the Free Press and operates the News — to exploring new ways to make newspapers a viable business. They’re trying to increase demand among advertisers and readers at the same time. According to Bill Mitchell of the Poynter Institute, “the papers have committed to a 50-50 split of news and advertising on the non-delivery days, compared to a share that now approaches 60 percent advertising. That, along with fewer pages and cheaper ad rates, may yield the kind of scarcity the papers hope will intensify demand among advertisers.”
So far, the strategy is working. It’s engaging readers and advertisers, one way or the other. Detroit Media Partnership CEO Dave Hunke told Mitchell ad space is sold out for the first two weeks of the scaled-back press run, and the paper has heard from more than 30,000 readers since the changes were announced in December. Some have had complaints, but others have praised the paper’s forward-looking approach. Hunke said readers must learn that they, too, have a responsibility for keeping newspapers in business. And I agree. If readers — who, like me, enjoy the daily interaction they have with their hard-copy newspaper — want newspapers to stick around for the next 50 years or so, they have to, as Hunke said, “show [a] tremendous appetite to transact news and information in some form of digital platform. And I mean different from our Web sites that are free.”