Weird Newspaper Story Of The Day, Part One: Wall Street Journal Cuts Service To Some Rural Subscribers

Posted by: Jon Fine on August 6, 2008

A reader who lives in Wyoming, around 30 miles away from the nearest decent-sized town, recently sent me the following email about his Wall Street Journal subscription:

>>> i got a wsj email today announcing that i would no longer get the paper day of [publication]. i thought i might be the most geographically peripheral person you know. instead they will give me free website access for the paper i guess. who knows?

It’s a drag for this reader/correspondent, but the brute fact is that trucking out a daily paper to a far-flung subscriber is expensive. Always was, even before gas prices doubled, paper prices starting going through the roof, and ad revenues started tanking. This is why for years, city and regional newspapers have been cutting what they term “out=state” circulation—that is, circulation distant from the market said papers serve. (A San Francisco Chronicle subscriber who lives on the outskirts of Sacramento is a good example.)

In times of abundant advertising and cheap gas, tacking on a few hundred subscribers at the very outer edge (or beyond) of what you could deliver without losing money every day made sense.

Not so much now!

Granted, this reader lives in a fairly remote area:

>>> the postmaster here lives on a horse ranch and she's heard about the change from other subscribers.

A Dow Jones spokesman emailed the following statement:

"In some areas, we use third parties and local papers for delivery and some printing. We regularly make small adjustments to our delivery footprint as they adjust their printing and delivery schedules. In this case there were a small number of subscribers who went from same-day USPS delivery to second day because of a shift in production schedules."

This round of delivery changes, the spokesman said affect subscribers in portions of South Dakota and Wyoming. According to Audit Bureau of Circulations, the total number of Journal subscribers from those states for the six months ending March 31, 2007 (this is the most recent data available) was 3,221. The total number of subscribers to the print Journal during that time was 1.7 million.

So, yes, this is hardly a move that’s going to cause Journal circulation to tank. But it is a signal that more-remote subscribers to the big national papers—the Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today—are closer than they may realize to no longer getting their daily paper on the day it’s published.

Reader Comments

Don

August 6, 2008 4:51 PM

I had friends in Berkeley, CA who were unable to get the Washington Post delivered same-day. I grew up in an area where I'd see the London Financial times staring pinkly at me as I walked bleary-eyed to the school bus stop, so such an idea seems really out of the ordinary to me.

But in the era of the newspaper website, really, is this a surprise?

Mark Van Patten

August 6, 2008 9:25 PM

A bunch of newspapers have already made this decision - not just the national newspapers. Ask around.

Jon Fine

August 8, 2008 11:04 AM

Mark's absolutely right, and this is one reason that many metro newspapers have had such severe circulation declines. (But only one reason.) But I'm betting now that similar cutbacks of circulation may pend for the big national dailies as well.

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