Thursday, August 10, 2006
The Billings Outpost, an independent newspaper in Billings, Mt., is reporting today that the Gannett Corp. scheme to make locals pay them for distribution is striking in their state. The article holds up the Jackson Free Press' battle against The Clarion-Ledger as an example of where communities are fighting back against these unfair competitive schemes, and quotes publisher Todd Stauffer:
Our colleagues at the Butte Weekly reported last month that the two biggest newspaper companies operating in Montana are putting the squeeze on independent newspapers that rely on free distribution. "It's the first shot in a one-sided battle to run these newspapers out of business, and in so doing, eliminate competition for the advertising dollar," the Weekly wrote.
Not only the Butte paper but also the Queen City News in Helena, the Missoula Independent and The Billings Outpost are affected, the Weekly wrote, accurately.
The Weekly says that it is being hurt by a deal between Safeway and Lee Enterprises, the owner of the Montana Standard and four other Montana dailies, including The Billings Gazette, as well as 21 weekly and specialty publications in Montana.
Under the deal between Lee and Safeway, papers using racks in the grocery stores have to pay $20 per month per store. The Weekly has declined to go along.
In Billings, Helena and Missoula, the Gannett Corp., which owns the Great Falls Tribune, has cut deals with Albertsons and Kmart stores to control rack distribution. Papers that wish to be in those stores have to pay for the privilege, and participating stores won't allow papers elsewhere on their property. [...]
In an editorial in July, Editor & Publisher magazine urged Gannett to give up the practice, in which "the Gannett paper sweet-talks retailers into thinking all the free papers are going along with its offer to become the only rack in the store. The competitors are forced to go along, or lose access to the outlet."
"And the real point," E&P wrote, is that dailies that claim — rightly — a First Amendment right to distribute papers without unreasonable interference should not create impediments for other papers."
The Jackson Free Press has launched a crusade against Gannett, starting a blog with updates on the fight and organizing a dozen free papers that are trying to persuade local businesses to reject Gannett's scheme.
Free Press Publisher Todd Stauffer told The Independent Weekly in Lafayette, La., "I wish [Gannett] would take their vast resources and focus more on reporting, investigating, and telling us the stories we need to hear, as opposed to trying to knock the Thrifty Nickel out of business."
Note that Gannett is doing this in small-ish markets where they seem to think we don't know to fight back, as Editor & Publisher pointed out in that editorial, telling Gannett newspapers to stop this scheme, which they called "a best-practices swap meet on steroids. Corporate should bring it to a halt." Are you listening, Gannett? This is not going to help y'all in the long run. You'll see.
This story is getting national legs and is really going to explode on Gannett if they don't think this through. Here's a blog posting on JobDig about this mess: At JobDig, we have run into plenty of issues competing against a number of daily newspapers on a daily, even hourly basis. We truly enjoy competition and embrace the challenges we face, celebrate the victories we earn, and bemoan the accounts we lose. Without question, we are a better company, in part, because of the huge number of companies we compete against for recruitment advertising dollars. What is upsetting about the actions of some of the daily newspapers, however, is that they are attempting to stifle competition with unfair, predatory practices. Stealing your competition's distribution racks, or even removing them with or without permission from the store-owner, and misleading or threatening local businesses, are behaviors not too dissimilar from fraudulently inflating circulation numbers. If the daily newspapers are going to survive, they need to learn how to compete effectively through the quality of their services and the strength of their value proposition to advertisers and readers rather than trying to out-muscle their competition through 'strong-arm' distribution tactics. Congatulations to City View for telling a story that needs to be told so local communities can benefit from a vibrant, healthy alternative press.