Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Q&A about the launch of the Baltimore 'b'

You've got to admit that Baltimore's new free daily has a clever, memorable name — b. Just one lowercase letter. And that's not the only new idea behind this newspaper and Web site that launched April 14. asked b General Manager Brad Howard these questions. First some stats. What's your current circulation?

Howard: We are distributing 50,000 copies of b using more than a thousand bright orange newspaper boxes located where Baltimore's young adults live, work and play — downtown Baltimore, Federal Hill, Canton, Towson, Cockeysville, Annapolis. You can also find b at Royal Farms, CVS, Mr. Tire, Merritt Athletic Clubs, Brick Bodies, college campuses or your favorite watering hole. We also distribute the paper using a network of samplers who pass out the paper to eager readers in high traffic areas — train stations, busy intersections, light rail, park & rides, the metro. Overall, we plan on distributing 100,000 copies by the end of the year. How many pick-up points?

Howard: 2,400 How many racks?

Howard: 1,000 Current average page count?

Howard: 36 Cost for a full-page ad?

Howard: Local open rate is $2,200 How large is your staff?

Howard: 22 How many of them are in news, sales, circulation, etc.?

Howard: We have a dedicated news and managerial staff that operates in office space separate from The Sun. All sales people throughout the Baltimore Sun Media Group's different properties can sell into b. How did your first day go? What did you do well and what could have been done better?

Howard: Fabulously. The paper and were warmly received. In fact, things really went according to plan. It's been said that this is a tough time for advertising. Isn't it risky to start a new publication during an economic slow down?

Howard: The Baltimore market has a high concentration of people employed in government positions, the defense industry and health care, which are all recession-resistant sectors. As a result, the Baltimore market's economy stays pretty stable in good times and bad. What's different between the b and RedEye (a free daily in Chicago also owned by the Tribune Co.)?

Howard: We're truly a unique, authentic and daily voice for young adults in the Baltimore area. About a third of our content will come from our readers. We learned a lot from RedEye, tbt and Quick, but b is all about Baltimore. Why did you pick a single letter for your title? What's your thinking about that?

Howard: Why not? We tried a lot of different titles, but b, in addition to its obvious tie to Baltimore, really connected with our audience during focus groups. It is simple, even elegant. It stands for whatever our audience wants it to "b." Does Tribune have plans to replicate this format in other markets?

Howard: At this point I have not heard of any specific plans for replication in other markets; however, Tribune is always looking for ways to satisfy market demands with quality products. Metro International CEO Per Mikael Jensen is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying his company erred by not rolling out enough editions in the United States. Metro's in three markets and he thinks they should have been in 10 in order to attract national advertisers. Unless Tribune rolls out more b's or RedEyes, isn't your company in danger of the same thing?

Howard: We are following a model that has proven successful in several other markets, including Chicago, Dallas and Tampa Bay. These other papers were extremely generous by sharing their lessons learned when they launched a young-adult paper years ago. All three of these papers are successful, and we expect b to succeed, too, because we are filling a need that is not being met here in Baltimore — a free, daily newspaper produced by and for Baltimore's young adults. And unlike Metro, we have a national sales staff that can package b with The Sun, our community newspapers and our interactive products. Why is Baltimore a good market for a youth oriented free daily?

Howard: Baltimore is the 19th largest market in the United States and has almost 600,000 young adults. That's a market segment with some heft. Is the Examiner a competitor? Do you compete more with alt-weeklies, which are typically youth oriented?

Howard: b and are filling a vacuum in the Baltimore market. A free, daily newspaper developed by and for Baltimoreans in their 20s and 30s didn't exist before b. It does now.