Wednesday, June 28, 2006
The Independent Weekly, the alternative newspaper in Lafayette, La., this week features Jackson's battle with Gannett over control of distribuition of free weeklies. The Weekly in Lafayette learned that the Gannett paper there is planning the same scheme, and did a story to get in front of it so their city isn't blindsided with the scheme as Jackson has been in recent weeks. JFP publisher Todd Stauffer is quoted extensively in the piece. We stay united with independent media in our sister state as Goliath descends.
Jackson Free Press didn’t take Gannett up on its new service, nor has any other free Jackson area publication. Instead, they formed the Mississippi Independent Publishers Alliance, a group of independent free publications that publish classified papers, real estate guides and weeklies. Each member of the alliance has pledged not to sign up with Gannett’s free distribution network. As long as Jackson’s independent publishers stick to their guns and refuse to sign onto The Clarion-Ledger’s network, it leaves the daily newspaper without income from the boxes — of which retailers have been offered a percentage — but it still leaves Gannett with exclusive distribution rights.
“If this was truly free enterprise,” Stauffer says, “they wouldn’t have to put ‘exclusive’ [in the contract]. … They’re not truly offering a product, and that’s how I know their scheme is more evil empire than it is a service. The problem I’ve got is that my competitor is going to be setting the rate on the box, and they’re basically using the strong arm of a Virginia-based corporation to try to buy their way into something they haven’t done particularly successfully just through sweat and tears.”
Stauffer received a letter from The Clarion Ledger on May 18 stating that Jackson Free Press must remove its racks from 167 locations by June 19. JFP’s attorneys responded by saying Gannett’s contracts with retailers were invalid since Gannett misleadingly used Jackson Free Press’ name in its marketing materials. “They suggested strongly to the locations in their pitch that most of the local free publications were on board as they went into pitch the idea,” Stauffer says. Retailers were presented with a list of publications titled “Accepted” and used the form to pick the publications they wanted in their locations. “It wasn’t that we had accepted anything,” Stauffer says. “It wasn’t that we even knew anything about the program. Prior to having talked to us, they created this list and made it look very legal. We’re saying we think that the contracts they signed while using our name are invalid.” On June 20, the Jackson Free Press reported that its readers had spotted independent publishers’ racks lined up next to dumpsters.
“On top of that,” Stauffer says, “we learned yesterday that one of the chains of convenience stores didn’t actually sign it until this week, although we got the letter a couple weeks ago. So they’re basically just playing both sides of the fence. They’re clearly overestimating the locations they’re telling us we have to get out of, and then they’re going to the retailers and saying this is going to be a great thing, except they’re actually not going to have any free distribution papers there.”
“I think it’s icing on the cake for them if they actually manage to make money off the distribution network,” Stauffer adds. South Louisiana Publishing’s Binkley told The Independent Weekly’s Terry that SLP’s business plan doesn’t call for making money for the first three years.
See the JFP's Goliath Blog to get up to speed.
You should warn everyone. Ganett would have problems in cities that already know and have battle plans against it.
Well, our association is on top of it, and we had meetings at the convention to compare notes. A lot of communities will know as a result of that, I'm happy to report. Also, an interesting tidbit out of the Pearl Street offices of the world's largest newspaper corporation. A Clarion-Editor editor apparently asked staff to tell businesses how nice the green TDN box looks outside their stores. It would seem that all of your work to educate the public is paying off if they feel they have to resort to such a thing. Keep it up, peeps!
Here's another great quote from Todd in this piece: “It’s about free enterprise,” he adds, “and it’s about a marketplace of ideas. Gannett has a pretty bad track record of trying to own that entire marketplace. They shouldn’t feel threatened by the free publications. But the truth is they are because they don’t do a great job — at least in our market — of being the paper of record. I wish they 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.”