American Pie 21.01.05

With readership in decline, in order to maintain their circulation
figures, many newspapers here – even big ones – are starting to give
away copies. Not at railway and bus stations, but directly to
customers. Many of these are readers who failed to sign up again for
their paper – but they continue to receive them. In fact, it’s
estimated that across the country almost 2 million people each day are
being delivered copies that do not cost them a cent. But they are still
classified as paying customers. Many of the papers are paid for by
advertisers who give them away in hotels, schools, hospitals and at
business conferences. They do so because of a change in the rules that
the publishing industry approved three years ago. It allowed socalled
“third-party sales” to be counted as part of a newspaper’s total
circulation. Without them, many papers would be losing circulation at a
far higher rate, with a consequential effect on ad rates. A new study
shows that the practice is widespread. For example, at USA Today ,
which claims the largest daily circulation in the US (almost 3m a day),
18 per cent of its circulation is “third-party sales”. At the Denver
Post, the figure is 13 per cent, and at the Wall Street Journal , the
second biggest paper in the US, the figure is over eight per cent. Some
newspapers, under pressure, are promising to keep a closer watch on the
figures, if only because the feeling is growing that if a paper is
free, no one really reads it, least of all the ads.

 

The
New York Times , in deciding to invest in The Boston Metro , one of
those real give-away papers, stirred up a hornets’ nest. Local black
organisations alleged that some senior executives of the
Scandinavian-based Metro Group, which publishes 42 free newspapers
around the world, had in the past made insulting and derogatory racial
slurs about some of their employees. When the story broke, the head of
the company, Steve Nyland, at first claimed the remarks had been
misconstrued, but then issued an apology, which was followed by the
resignation of two of the company’s executives. One Boston politician
commented: “It’s a start – but not enough just to say you are sorry.”
The New York Times has not yet said whether it plans to go ahead with
its investment.

 

It was probably the fastest race to
the presses in magazine history. Three top American celebrity magazines
all competing to be first with the news of the break-up of Brad Pitt
and Jennifer Aniston. At People, US and In Touch , it resulted in a lot
of hasty rewriting and replating. All three mags pushed forward their
publication date. The race was won by People, which first broke the
story on its website and then beat the others to the newsstands by at
least 24 hours. It came out four days ahead of its usual schedule,
which meant two issues in one week. The one paper that came out badly
was The Star which was stuck on the newsstands with an outdated splash
that read “Brad and Jen Back On. It’s Baby Time!”

 

News
that Rupert Murdoch is planning to pay a record $44m for a super-sized
penthouse on New York’s Fifth Avenue, overlooking the Central Park Zoo,
left many jaws agape. It even made Page One of the New York Times . But
it turns out that the publisher is no stranger to the building. He
lived there once before in the late 70s when he first bought the New
York Post. In those days it was owned by Laurence Rockefeller. Murdoch
should have bought then. In the 70s, those apartments were selling for a mere million dollars.

 

On
the day that Elvis Presley would have been 70, one of America’s
best-known editors, Dick Stolley, who was running People at the time,
admitted he made one of the worst decisions in magazine history when
Elvis died. He put British actor Marty Feldman on his cover that week.
Sales were abysmal. Admits Stolley: “I should have been fired.” But
then, Stolley was the Life magazine reporter in Dallas when JFK was
shot, and snagged the famous Zaprudder home movie of the assassination,
a coup for which he will always be remembered.

 

Long
faces at Rolling Stone and US magazine. The management has ruled that
any meals that include alcoholic beverages cannot be charged on
expenses. From now on, only sober spreads will be paid for by the
company. President of Wenner Media, Kent Brownridge, admitted: “There’s
some unhappiness, but times are changing.”

 

Former
Fleet Street journalist Anthea Disney, new head of Gemstar, ( Press
Gazette , 17 December) is pushing ahead with her plan for a new celeb
magazine, a sister to TV Guide, aimed at young women who love TV. It
will be edited by another former Fleet Street journalist Steve LeGrice,
previously executive editor of In Touch Weekly .

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