Tag Archives: Newspapers

The Death Spiral At The New York Times

Extra, Extra… Read All About It !

The New York Times hikes its cover price yet again.

Another New York Times price increase.

Get ready to shell out more for your copy of The New York Times.

Extra, Extra !

Executives at The New York Times must be taking business strategy lessons from the same experts that have guided the once mighty General Motors to the brink of bankruptcy and needing to take federal bailout money to stay alive.  Shares of GM, once considered a “blue chip” stock that was among the most highly regarded of all investments, and which were trading at close to  $90 a share ten years ago, are now virtually worthless.

The New York Times has announced yet another round of price increases, the third in less than two years , that will hike the newsstand price of their Sunday edition to $5.00 or $6.00, depending on the geographic edition.  The weekday New York Times increases to $2.00 !  And you still don’t get any comics.  The price increases are effective June 1st.

$6.00 for a newspaper?  Are they joking ?  Perhaps New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. hasn’t yet taken notice of the new kid on the block.   Mr. Sulzberger, we would like to introduce you to Mr. Internet.  He’s big, he’s getting bigger all the time, and he’s eating your lunch.

The Internet is eating everybody’s lunch.  This Time Magazine article names the ten most endangered newspapers in America.  And according to this CNN article, at least 120 U.S. newspapers have folded since January, 2008.

Faced with a sharp drop in advertising revenue and falling circulation, the price increases at The Times are likely to just exacerbate the problems facing the newspaper.  Price increases will inevitably produce a further errosion in circulation, which is sure to further weaken advertising income.  A decision to increase prices at a time like this, for many businesses, is tantamount to committing suicide.  We believe that the New York Times has made the worst possible decision at the worst possible time.

Our readers will note that we have not raised the cover price here at Routing By Rumor;  reading our blog is still free!

Understandably, the bean counters at The Times are desperate.  They’re being squeezed from all directions.  But you have to wonder who made the strategic decision that may very well seal their fate.  Perhaps a price decrease, coupled with an agressive advertising campaign would have been the right course to follow.  We believe that with the increasing competition for readers that the Internet has created, along with belt tightening by consumers in the depths of this economic recession, and the drastically shrinking size (the number of pages) of newspapers over the last few years, including the Times, newspapers are increasingly becoming  irrelevant to more and more readers.  It’s not unlike a phone company that keeps increasing it’s rates, in an attempt to offset the loss of revenue from customers who are dropping their traditional phone service, and using cellphones exclusively.  Price increases will only serve to accelerate the trend.

Will the New York Times disappear completely? We fully expect to see a copy of the New York Times on the newsstand in the near future, with a headline of “THE END”.  The fact that you are reading this blog, when you could be reading The New York Times instead, isn’t helping the Gray Lady one bit.  We believe that their print editions are in mortal danger,with The Times becoming an online-only newspaper.

Better buy your Amazon Kindle now !

– Routing By Rumor

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More Proof That The Gray Lady Is Hurting !

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Street level view of the new New York Times building (photo credit: pentagram.com)

Five months ago, we wrote about job cuts at the New York Times (a.k.a. “The Gray Lady“). This week, the New York Times announced their latest price increase. Once again, Times readers will pay more, but get less (that is, those readers who remain readers despite the price increase). And New York Times readers don’t even get their favorite comics. To our knowledge, the New York Times has never had a comics section.

The weekday editions will go from $1.25 to $1.50, a 20% increase. This increase comes just twelve months since the Times raised their cover price 25% for weekday editions, and about 15% for the Sunday edition. Prior to the last price increase, the Times was able to do without a price increase for eight years. Viewed another way, these two price increases in one year’s time equal a 50% increase in the cover price of the New York Times weekday editions. Our salary hasn’t increased 50% in the past year …has yours? Sadly, the New York Times print editions may just be a luxury we can no longer afford.

More frequent price increases for many consumer products is the norm these days, We believe it is further evidence of an economy in deep trouble. Newspapers are getting it from all sides… Advertising revenue is drying up, readership is down, and production costs are way up, particularly paper, electricity and fuel. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Internet and “new media” have turned out to be the newspaper industry’s worst nightmare. Newspapers are trying to embrace the brave new digital world, but it looks like they may be waging a loosing battle.

The squeeze has been evident to readers of the Times for quite a while now. The paper is shrinking. Their flagship product, the Sunday New York Times, is a shadow of it’s former self. Help wanted display advertising in the Sunday business section, once perhaps 75 or 100 pages every Sunday, has completely disappeared. Complete Sunday sections have disappeared. What’s left is an anemic Sunday edition that sells for an incredible $4.00 !

The voracious technology hounds at Routing By Rumor like to read the New York Times on Tuesdays, for the Science section, which has been contracting as well. We used to enjoy the Circuits section on Thursdays, but that section has disappeared, replaced by one to two pages of articles buried towards the back of the Thursday Business section. We suspect the Science section will go A.W.O.L shortly, as well.

All this bad news at the New York Times just happens to come at a time when people seeking their 15 minutes of fame have been flocking to the new building the Times has built, one block from New York City’s Times Square (named for the site of a previous building the New York Times’ occupied at One Times Square,  during the early 1900’s). It seems people have an irresistible urge to climb up the outside of the their brand spanking new skyscraper, like so many spidermen.  The fact that their new building sports what amounts to ladders on it’s exterior walls is too much for some adventure or publicity seekers to ignore.

Hu Totya/Wikipedia)

The New York Times building under construction, 9/16/2006 (credit: Hu Totya/Wikipedia)

We propose a solution that could only happen in New York City, home to Coney Island’s famed Parachute Jump, the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium, and the site of the deadliest attack in our nation’s history.

Why not sell permits to climbers who want to scale the New York Times building, sell tickets to the spectators, sell the television rights to one of the networks, and use all the money they earn to subsidize the print editions of the New York Times. They could even place corporate logos on each floor, similar to how ball parks plaster sponsor’s ads on every nook and cranny at the ball parks. This plan may be so successful, they will be able to give away the Times for free. Remember, you heard it hear first.

Of course, safety will be an important part of this plan. Climbers will need to have the proper climbing equipment, safety nets will need to be installed, and spotters will have to supervise the climbing. Perhaps some bleachers can be built along Eighth Avenue. A giant LCD screen in Times Square (like there aren’t enough of those already) could let people follow the climbers.

David Scull/New York Times)

Alain Robert climbs the New York Times building on June 5, 2008 (photo credit: David Scull/New York Times)

Think this plan is crazy? Then you probably won’t think much of the latest attraction a few blocks away in New York’s Central Park. For the incredible price of $25, you can ride a helium balloon 300 feet above Central Park. Really! …And you thought the helium balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade were cool.

Only in New York.

– Routing By Rumor

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The Gray Lady Is Hurting – Job Cuts Announced At The New York Times

Life imitates art.

Life also imitates blogs.

The Gray Lady has fallen. When you’re her age, recovery is very difficult, even impossible someTimes. A couple of days ago, in this posting about layoffs at CBS radio stations, we talked about the incredible shrinking New York Times. Today, the Times announced job cuts. Maybe we’re psychic or something.

No, we can’t claim any psychic powers. It wasn’t really hard to see this one coming. As we discussed, all of the traditional media are struggling. Newspapers have been getting smaller while their newsstand price has been climbing. Radio stations have been reduced to generating ad revenue by running commercials for snake oil, 24 hours a day. Broadcast television is pretty much a wasteland. Hey, Mr. FCC chairman… Is broadcasting infomercials most of the time considered “broadcasting in the public interest”? Don’t broadcasters have to demonstrate that as a condition of license renewal?

But good news is just around the corner. The Fed is talking about yet another rate cut, and the President says the checks are (almost) in the mail.

Our economy is looking more and more like an emaciated drug addict every day. Our neighborhood dealer, Mr. Bernanke, who has gotten us dependent on rate cuts, is going to run out of his brand of crack before too long. If the IRS doesn’t keep sending us rebate checks, we might have to start robbing little old ladies to support our habits. Disgusting habits. Like eating …and filling our gas tanks …and heating the house …and paying the mortgage.

How do things sound where you are? That giant sucking sound is getting louder around here. Ross Perot was right.

July, 2008 Update…

The New York Times layoffs are now five months old, the newspaper continues to shrink, and now, they raise the cover price yet again.  Read our latest article here.

– RoutingByRumor

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Bad Day At Black Rock – The Axe Falls At CBS Flagship Radio Station WCBS 880 AM In New York City

…And we’re not referring to the 1955 John Sturges movie by the same name, starring Spencer Tracy.

We’ve written here recently that it seems to us that the vast majority of the advertising on radio stations lately is for products best described as snake oil, and services of questionable efficacy, almost always targeted at individuals in some sort of trouble. Advertising for legitimate, mainstream products and services seems to have all but disappeared. In our mind, this is direct evidence of the faltering economy in the United States, as well as a result of the impact the Internet has had on manufacturer’s and retailer’s advertising habits. We doubt that a radio station enjoys the same type of advertising revenue from a commercial for some brand of snake oil, as it would for an ad from an automobile manufacturer, airline, bank or any other “real” advertiser. And when you hear the same snake oil spot being broadcast every few minutes, day-in and day-out, we think it’s a good bet that they are buying the airtime dirt-cheap. Tough economic times always breed a bumper crop of hucksters, snake oil salesmen and get-rich-quick schemes. We guess P.T. Barnum was right.

It came as no surprise then, when we learned that there was a round of layoffs this week at CBS radio stations, including at WCBS-AM (880 kHz) in New York City. There are reports that nearly 200 CBS radio employees lost their jobs this week. According to this posting, it’s Crystal clear that the bloodletting included WCBS jettisoning their Program Director, Crys Quimby. You can still (at least at this writing) read about Crys on her page at WCBS880.com. She had been with CBS for more than 20 years! You know things are bad when people with that much service are shown the door. We guess that means there will be no gold watch.

The day after I blogged this story, this article appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger. A statement released by CBS Radio included the following explanation…

“With these actions, we continue to build on our strategy of deploying our assets to best grow our ratings and monetize the results”

Now, if that isn’t a piece of tortured doublespeak, penned by some corporate spinmaster, we don’t know what is. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s written in English. We parsed it using our Captain Midnight secret decoder ring. It translated into “The Internet has killed our audience. Between that and the failing economy, our advertising revenue has dried up like a lake bed in a drought. We’re running out of money”.

What’s next? Hooking WCBS 880’s traffic reporter Tom Kaminski up to a bunch of helium balloons instead of having him report from “Chopper 880”? Maybe they’ll have chopper pilot Christopher LaCasse manning the helium tank. We would love to have Tom take a few hits of helium just before he goes on the air. His traffic reports would sound like this (please don’t try this, since it could be dangerous, and there’s always the chance you could sound like one of the Munchkins permanently). The Wizard Of Oz has always been our favorite movie. As a child, we would cry every time we watched it, afraid that Dorothy and Toto wouldn’t get back to Kansas. By the way, here’s why helium does funny things to your voice.

…But we digress.

About the only advice we can offer to the employees at WCBS-AM and other CBS stations who are now unemployed, is to not bother applying for jobs at Macy’s. But WCBS could enter Tom Kaminski as the newest float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s, one of America’s oldest and best known retailers, just announced they are cutting 2,300 jobs (read about it here). No big surprise here either, since retailers are really hurting in this economy. But hey, Wal-Mart is still hiring. As we have previously written, don’t expect the $600 income tax rebate checks Americans will be getting thanks to the U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan to be much help. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Macy’s ends their more than 80 year sponsorship of the annual Thanksgiving day parade in New York City. In that case, you could say that the axe fell on the turkey, too. The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks show, which has dazzled New York City for over 30 years might also fizzle.

Of course, it’s not just CBS Radio or radio and TV broadcasters in general who are feeling the pinch. Newspapers are folding (pun intended) under the weight of a failing economy, coupled with the exodus of advertising dollars to the Internet, cellphones, and other electronic venues. Take The New York Times, one of America’s most venerable and respected newspapers, for example. The print edition of The New York Times is a shadow of it’s former self. Over the last year or so, entire sections of the Sunday New York Times have disappeared, while the newsstand price has climbed to $4.00. That alone, I am sure has contributed to much of the decrease in circulation that they have seen. For a long time, they didn’t even bother to renumber the remaining sections. For instance, when they killed section 10 (Help Wanted) and section 13 (Television), they simply sold the Sunday newspaper with those section numbers missing for about a year. I would imagine that prompted a lot of complaints from readers that their copy was missing some sections. Then recently, they decided to drop the section numbers altogether, simply using the remaining sections’ names only (Sports, Real Estate, etc.). I took this as an omnious sign that they expect to discontinue even more sections of their Sunday edition. We were particularly upset when the Technology section (formerly the Computers section) that appeared one (weekday) per week, shrunk and shrunk until all that remains today is one or two pages a week inside the Times’ Business section. Even the physical size of their pages has been reduced. We guess that means the Times is shrinking literally AND figuratively.

We’re not the only ones thinking that The New York Times is in big trouble. Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, has begun his “New York Times deathwatch” (see this CNN article).

So I guess we will be getting most of our news off of the Internet from now on. Too bad, because we were starting to find all those radio commercials for snake oil to be quite entertaining.

– RoutingByRumor

P.S. – Ever wonder why WCBS-AM, which used to go by the moniker “Newsradio 88” adopted the “880” identity? They’re still at the same spot on the AM dial, 880 kHz (or 0.880 mHz). When radios, especially car radios, had analog tuning dials, it was the norm to drop the last digit of frequencies below 1 megahertz. Hence, 530 kHz was shown as “53” or “53“, and 880 kHz was shown as “88” or “88” (to avoid clutter, only a few frequencies would usually be shown on the tuning dial. You would have to guesstimate the position of the other stations). Some listeners would scratch a mark into the face of the radio to mark the position of their favorite stations. We would put little dots of “white-out” on the face of the dial. With the move to digital displays on modern radios, 880 kHz is usually shown as “880”. WCBS, as well as other AM stations, simply wanted to keep things in sync, and have what you see displayed match their announced frequency.

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Need Proof That The U.S. Economy Is In Trouble?

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Great Depression era soup kitchen in Chicago

Call it what you will

Whether you want to call it an economic slump, a downturn, a correction or a recession, the American economy is in trouble. If you want proof that the economy is in trouble, just take off your rose-colored glasses, and turn on the radio or open your local newspaper.

Advertising

I’ve noticed this trend for the last few years… Very few of the advertisements on radio are for what I consider legitimate products or services. It seems that the vast majority of radio ads are aimed at people in some sort of trouble, be it financial, legal, criminal, medical or personal. Advertising for real, honest-to-goodness consumer products are few and far between.

Every type of snake oil imaginable is being hawked on the radio. Whatever medical condition you have, there’s some miracle pill or device being advertised, and they’re all free! FREE! FREE! FREE! …that is, if you don’t count the “shipping and handling charge”. Give me a break.

Are you in debt? No problem. There are radio advertisements offering a solution to every possible financial problem. Have you ruined your credit rating? Owe money to the IRS? Have to declare bankruptcy? Creditors calling and harrasing you? Owe child support? Can’t get a credit card? Home being foreclosed? Car being repossessed? Charged with DWI? Want to sue your doctor? Want to “name a star after someone“, and waste more than $50 on absolute nonsense? No problem. Just call the 800 number, and a friendly and curteous professional is there to help. 24 hours a day. Operators are standing by. No obligation …and it’s FREE !!! …but you have to call within the next 30 minutes. Quantities are limited. Only one per household. You need to call now! Oh… and have your credit card ready.

Have your credit card ready? I thought it was free.

Regardless of the particular brand of snake oil that these commercials are offering, here’s RoutingByRumor’s Rule Of Thumb #1… The more often they repeat their toll-free phone number during the commercial, the more of a scam, or more worthless of a product it is. Another telltale sign that you’d be better off turning the dial to a different station is what I like to refer to as the “speedtalker”. The announcer, usually at the end of the commercial, that reads the fine print at about 1,000 words per minute. Some of this fine print, especially the ones done electronically, are truly hysterical. You couldn’t comprehend most of what they are saying if your life depended on it. But that’s probably their intent. So RoutingByRumor’s Rule Of Thumb #2… If they have to resort to speed-talking to give you all the legal disclaimers and other crap, turn off the radio. A legitimate advertiser will never have to resort to this nonsense. The undecipherable gibberish they attach to these ads make their entire message suspect, at least in my mind. I find it hard to believe that any advertising agency would recommend this tactic to an advertiser.

Tired of your job? Want to quit the rat race? Had it with your boss? Want to make “real” money? Only want to work part-time? Looking for financial freedom? Tired of the commute? No problem. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’ll make $10,000 in the first week. Then they give you the testimonials. Every one of these people are raking in the bucks. Some of them are only working a few hours a week. They can’t count all the money. They’re making money while they sleep. It’s insane how much cash you’ll make. All without investing a penny. All from the comfort of your home. While you’re in your pajamas! All without a college degree. As one of their success stories tells you, “I was skeptical, but I called the 800 number. Now, I’m earning a six-figure income”. The sky’s the limit. But you have to call now. Oh, did I mention… Operators are standing by. Then they repeat the 800 number another half-dozen times.

Just one small problem. They never actually tell you what it is they’re selling. Visit their website, and you still don’t have a clue. Call to request more info? They will send you a packet of material that doesn’t tell you what it is that will allow you to earn all that money. Chances are, these get-rich-quick offers are some form of multi-level-marketing (MLM) scam. Routing-By-Rumor’s Rule Of Thumb #3… If they don’t tell you what they’re selling, run, don’t walk, in the opposite direction.

Have an old car sitting in the driveway that you’re trying to get rid of? What’s that? It won’t start? No problemo. No keys? No title? No registration? No wheels? No engine? No problem. They will arrange a pick-up within the hour, and you’ll get a tax-deductible receipt for the full value of the vehicle. They’ll drag away that old heap regardless of the condition, running or not.

The full value of the vehicle? Exactly what does that mean? The IRS wants to know. They have been cracking down on these scams recently. Our guess is that few if any of the charities that stoop to this type of advertising are worth considering donating to. Many of the radio commercials or newspaper ads for these “charities” don’t actually tell you what type of work your “donation” will support. What we find amazing is that the word has only four letters, yet there seems to be an infinite number of ways to spell SCAM.

Now, we realize that ever since man has roamed the the planet, there have been hucksters, scammers, snake oil salesmen, crooks and get-rich-quick artists. What I’ve noticed in the last few years, particularly with radio advertising, is that ads for legitimate products and services has been largely replaced by ads for every conceivable scam and every type of snake oil imaginable. I guess broadcasters are desperate for ad revenue, so they aren’t too choosy about which ads they will accept. As long as the advertisers pay their bills, broadcasters will run the ads.

Yes, the Internet has a lot to do with it. Legitimate advertisers have many more places to spend their advertising bucks these days. However, I don’t think that accounts for most of whats going on. I think that the disappearance of what I consider legitimate advertising, as well as the proliferation of scams and snake oil, are good indicators of how much trouble the American economy is in. These types of ads, which appeal to desperate and gullible people, proliferate when the economy is in trouble. Guglielmo Marconi must be spinning in his grave.

A widening gap

We’re not economists at RoutingByRumor, but we will point out some of the indices we use when formulating our doom and gloom forecast. The gap between the wealthiest and poorest in America has never been greater (see NY Times article, MSNBC article, another NY Times article, yet another NY Times article). We doubt that the disparity between wage increases and cost-of-living increases has ever been greater. And we don’t trust the government’s unemployment figures as far as we could throw them. Spiraling energy prices are increasing the cost of goods and services across the board. If you’re lucky enough to be working, is your salary keeping pace with the cost of living? We doubt it.

Banks

The average bank savings account pays around 3.5% interest annually, interest-bearing checking accounts much, much less. Many credit card companies charge cardholders up to 36% interest on their outstanding balances, with fees that seem to continue rising without limit. Has the spread between the interest Americans earn on their bank accounts (or even Certificates of Deposit) and what they pay in credit card interest and fees ever been greater?

Investing

In RoutingByRumor’s opinion, Wall Street is a cesspool of insider trading, stock manipulation and corruption. It seems that jail time and public disgrace provide little deterrence. We think that few Americans still trust the stock market, yet Wall Street firms are earning record profits, and traders are earning record incomes. Corporations try to outdo one another when it comes to executive compensation. No compensation package, it seems, is too excessive. Even when salaries are capped, total compensation often reaches obscene levels.

Wages

Yet at the opposite end of the spectrum, many companies are paying little more to hourly workers today than they did 20 or 30 years ago, and many rely heavily on part-time workers who receive few, if any benefits. The current U.S. federal minimum wage of $5.85 an hour is a farce. The percentage gap between poverty-level income and minimum wage income is about four times greater today than it was in 1968 !!! (see statistics) Forty years ago, a single-income family of four, dependent on the minimum wage, was nearly at the poverty line. Today, that same family is nearly at half of poverty line income. Families at the low end of the economic ladder are in much worse shape today than ever. The gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans has never been greater. The concentration of wealth has never been greater.

People are hurting

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Bread line, circa 1937

Read the newspapers. Food pantries and soup kitchens across America report a greater need than ever, even as the donations they need to operate are decreasing. At the same time, the demand for luxury goods by the wealthiest Americans has never been stronger.

Today, labor unions have little clout in America. Look no further than the American auto industry, once a bastion of labor unions. Look at how little we manufacture here anymore. Look at the trade deficit. Look at the illegal immigration problem. By the way, don’t believe them when they tell you that making it more difficult to get a driver’s license will solve the illegal immigration problem, or the terrorism threat. Don’t believe them when they tell you that making it harder to smuggle people or drugs, or anything else across the border will solve anything. Did it ever solve the drug problem in the United States? If you sent every single illegal Mexican home tomorrow, it would make little difference to our economy. Virtually everything sold in this country is being imported. That’s where all the jobs have gone. To China and every other low cost producer in the world. Not to Mexico. People feared NAFTA. I think it has had little impact on the American economy compared to the flood gates that have been opened to imports from Asia.

Wal-Mart advertised they were hiring workers for their new store Avondale Estates, Georgia. Walmart wages and benefits are widely considered among the worst in America, yet this week, 10,000 people showed up hoping to get one of the 400 jobs available at this Wal-Mart (see this Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article). Was it this bad during the great depression?

But don’t take our word for it

Think we’re all wrong about this stuff?

Just turn on the radio, and count the number of “real” products or services you hear commercials for.

Open the newspaper, and try to find a decent paying job (or any job at all).

Try to sell your home (or try buying a home). Good Luck !!!

Ask yourself if you’re in as good financial shape as you were a year, five years, or ten years ago.

Worried about being able to afford health care?

Worried that you’ll never be able to retire?

Worried about pulling into the gas station and saying “fill-er-up”?

Worried about the cost of heating the house this winter?

Worried about layoffs?

Worried about the war?

Still think the economy is doing well?

– RoutingByRumor

( 1/18/2008 update: See our related article, entitled “Dear President Bush…“)

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