In all likelihood, it was just a coincidence. Even if it weren't, it may be the smart thing to do. When I opened my home-delivered edition of The New York Times this morning, out fell a piece of white bond paper with a one-page letter that started, "Dear Home Delivery Subscriber." The senior vice president of circulation, Yasmin Namini, got right to the point. "Effective Monday, November 6, there will be an increase in the price of home delivery of The Times."
The letter went on to extol all the value I get from my subscription, but it wasn't like the price-increase letters that we got in days gone by that blamed the higher rates on increased newspaper costs or more editorial staff. That's because everyone knows The Times is increasing its rates because it believes the demand for the paper is relatively inelastic and its revenues are declining. The Oct. 31 issue of The Times contained two other interesting items. The first was a 16-page marketing piece about why The Times is such an incredibly good publication, highlighting several of its print and Internet reporters and photographers.
Finally on the front page of the Business Section was the article that all of us who follow the news daily had already seen. "Overall, average daily circulation dropped by 2.8 percent during the six-month period ended September 30 compared with the period last year…circulation for Sunday papers fell by 3.4 percent." The author points out that this is the steepest decline in any comparable period "in at least 15 years." The reason of course is the Internet, as well as less disposable time. "At the New York Times for example, the number of people who read the paper online now surpasses the number who buy the print edition." In fact, the NAA has said the number of people who visited a newspaper Web site in the third quarter increase 24 percent over the period a year ago.
What is interesting is the number of extremely wealthy people who have taken an interest in owning newspapers. There is the ego thing (sort of like owning an airline or a movie studio) and the opportunity for a bully pulpit in a business that is still very profitable. You don't see these same individuals trying to buy Yellow Pages companies because there is no opportunity to express yourself even though more Yellow Pages are delivered and they have a lot longer shelf life. Meanwhile, R.H. Donnelley, Yellow Pages Group and Yell have all seen their stock rise recently. One analyst predicted that newspapers would receive more money from print than from online for at least the next 20 years. That may be optimistic, but if it's true for newspapers, it is even more likely for Yellow Pages' directories.
So I don't know if it was a coincidence that these three items appeared in the same edition of my New York Times. When I tried to call Ms. Namini (the SVP of circulation) for comment, there was no answer at several different numbers that were listed on The Times’ Web site. It is great that The New York Times has such outstanding reporters, but how can it increase circulation if no one answers the phone?