Things just seem to be getting worse and worse for newspapers. Advertising revenue is spread much thinner than it used to be—thank you very much, Ms. Internet. And now, because of an economy in shambles, businesses have less money to toss into that wide, shallow pool. Fortunately, small alternative weeklies like CityBeat have been weathering the storm better than dailies and larger weeklies.
But we were not able to withstand the most recent market gust—not without making a significant change in our operation, that is.
You might have already noticed something different about this week's CityBeat. It's shorter. Its size now is closer to that of a standard magazine. We've made the change because the cost of newsprint has skyrocketed this year, and the only alternative to changing the size of the paper was to cut employees. Faced with that prospect, trimming about an inch off of each page was the obvious choice.
Bruce Bolkin, the guy who runs our parent company, Southland Publishing, tells me that the cost of newsprint has risen 30 percent since Jan. 1, 2008. That's a breathtaking blow. The cost of glossy paper has increased 30 percent during the last 15 months, he adds. The cost of ink has also shot up. Because these raw materials account for 60 to 70 percent of our total printing costs, our printing bill has increased 15 to 20 percent in the past year alone. Bolkin says this is the most extraordinary hike in the cost of materials he's ever seen. Typically, there are modest fluctuations—small cost increases followed by similar decreases.
“However,” Bolkin tells me in an e-mail, “dramatic changes in market conditions (poor U.S. dollar, globalization, and staggering increases in the cost of fuel) as well as structural changes in the paper manufacturing industry lead us all to believe that there will not be any significant reversal in the future (in fact, more increases may follow).”
That surely sounds grim, doesn't it?
Certainly, we weren't thrilled when we learned we'd have to lop a little off the top. It does result in some loss of content—for example, the editor's note you're reading now had to be about 10 percent shorter than its usual size (which can be regarded as happy news, depending). We have all kinds of great ideas for new features we'd like to add to the paper, so subtraction is not exactly the direction we want to be going.
But here's the good news: Other than having to absorb a sudden, unexpected rise in the cost of materials, CityBeat is doing relatively well. And all we need to mitigate that beefier line item on the wrong side of the ledger is a few more regular advertisers. So, you can consider the rest of this note a for-profit company's shameless pledge drive.
If you're reading this, you already know what niches CityBeat fills in San Diego. It's the only viable media organization in town that offers a liberal perspective on local, state and national politics. It gives you the only alternative in urban San Diego to the Union-Tribune's election endorsements. It contains the city's most irreverent and provocative columnists. Its news coverage tends to focus on traditionally under-covered segments of the population.
It's hands-down the best source for coverage of San Diego's underground arts and culture scene, with a special emphasis on edgier visual art. It stands the best chance of telling you who the next big local band will be.
Unlike some other publications in town, it doesn't guarantee editorial coverage for its advertisers. That might sound like a negative for businesses—after all, publications that marry ads and editorial give you both the ad that you pay for plus puffy stories. But it's really a positive, and here's why: Over the long haul, publications without a sturdy wall between editorial and advertising will reveal themselves to be non-credible. Readers will ultimately see through the bullshit. Whatever you think its faults may be, CityBeat offers integrity. While you might not get a puff piece about your business, you will get a steadily growing number of eyeballs on our pages and on your ads—eyeballs that recognize no-strings-attached coverage.
And maybe most important of all, advertisers: Unlike the San Diego Reader, CityBeat doesn't use your money to finance statewide campaigns to chip away at women's reproductive rights. Please e-mail me (email@example.com) if you'd like to know more about that.
Thanks for indulging these periodic updates and this rare advertising pledge drive. And, as always, thank you for reading CityBeat.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.