The publisher of the Odessa American has had so much trouble finding workers to deliver the West Texas paper in recent years that at one point he took on the job himself.
Earlier this year, Patrick Canty, the paper’s publisher for two decades, reduced the newspaper’s circulation from seven days a week to two and began sending the issues to subscribers using the same-day delivery option from US Postal Service instead of relying on delivery drivers. .
Many local news publishers across the United States are choosing to send their newspapers to subscribers as they face driver shortages – a problem exacerbated by high fuel costs, wage inflation and declining century of the newspaper industry which has meant that subscribers in some regions are too few and far between for traditional delivery to make sense.
The number of newspapers sent to subscribers or sold at newsstands has fallen by around a third in two and a half years, according to recent data from the Alliance for Audited Media which examines the circulation of the top 50 newspapers.
“It’s hard on one person,” Mr Canty said of the delivery job, which initially took him from midnight until around 11:30 a.m. , including working in the local oil fields or for food delivery services.
Cody Idom, a 43-year-old man who delivered the Odessa American, said he was unable to earn enough money to justify the paper delivery job after the Odessa American reduced its circulation . He also said high gas prices made delivery jobs, including an often better-paying gig with food delivery service DoorDash, barely profitable. “I was only earning about half of what I was getting,” Mr Idom said. “The rest went to gas.”
A few weeks ago, Mr. Idom started as a full-time employee of a local Domino’s Pizza. He said he delivers pizza during the day, gets paid by the hour, and doesn’t resent gas prices as much.
Chris Reen, president and CEO of Clarity Media Group, publisher of several local publications including the Colorado Springs Gazette, said the company was considering sending mail to some regional newspapers, but was struggling with the idea that print-dependent readers will receive outdated information.
the nation’s largest news publisher, last year began considering replacing courier delivery with courier delivery in a small number of local markets where it has been most difficult to recruit drivers, including South Bend , Ind., where subscribers on certain delivery routes are too spread out.
The company, which publishes more than 400 print titles including USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, currently sends newspapers to about 20 markets and plans to replace at least some routes with mail in eight more markets this month.
Subscribers who receive papers in the mail have a high probability of receiving their papers at some point on the same day – better than 99% on average – although this is not guaranteed by the postal service, said Wayne Pelland, Gannettit is
senior vice president of publishing operations. Typically, half receive their papers in the morning and the other half receive them in the afternoon, he said.
The consistency of mail delivery has helped assuage customer complaints about not receiving their documents on time, Pelland said.
“We don’t use our newspapers as vehicles for breaking news,” said Amalie Nash, senior vice president of local news and audience development at Gannett-owned USA Today Network. She said the company relies on its digital platforms for breaking news and growth in subscriptions.
Brad Hill, CEO of Interlink, a company that helps publishers make the transition to mail delivery, said publisher demand for mail delivery has skyrocketed over the past two years.
“You can often send a local newspaper across town for 15 cents or less,” compared to around 30 to 50 cents, and in some cases as much as 80 cents, for traditional delivery, said Hill, who works with more than 2,000 publications across the country.
The January 2021 Salt Lake Tribune cut its circulation from seven days to one. The change made it even more difficult to find drivers who were already leaving for different jobs, said Chris Stegman, who had joined as chief revenue officer a few months earlier.
“Suddenly a dishwasher can be making $22 an hour,” Stegman said. “I’m not comparing jobs, but since wages have gone up in all positions, this one of getting up at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to deliver papers and not making a lot of money isn’t very attractive.”
In January, the Salt Lake Tribune switched to mail delivery and increased its print circulation to two days a week. Newspapers can arrive at subscribers’ homes at any time of the day with the rest of their mail.
Some local publishers realize significant savings when switching to courier delivery, more than offsetting minor losses from subscribers who do not want courier delivery.
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Bill Marcil Jr., chief executive of Forum Communications, based in Fargo, North Dakota, said the company cut delivery costs by 25% after cutting ties with its 600 carriers and moving to delivering the mail for the majority of its 11 dailies and 10 weeklies. He said Forum Communications is investing in the digital version of its newspapers, but recognizes that this is a difficult transition for some older subscribers. “It’s their connection to the world,” Mr. Marcil said.
Mr. Canty, the publisher of the Odessa American, said the company was reinvesting its cost savings. Since switching to mail and reducing its print run, the publisher has launched and plans new sections primarily for its digital products, including entertainment and energy sections. Mr. Canty said he hopes to eventually expand coverage to cities where the company has stopped delivering newspapers.
“I’m sick of making the newsroom a whipping board for cuts,” he said. “We can focus more on news and content generation.”
Write to Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]
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