Thursday, December 18, 2008

An idea for Detroit's newspapers

Detroit's two newspapers announced Tuesday that they are stopping home delivery four days a week and will only sell a scaled-down version of their papers on those days in racks and stores. (Read the AP story. Photo by the AP.)

The move is a cost-cutting measure as the two papers struggle to survive. "We have to change the way we deliver that news — not just in subtle ways, but in fundamental ways," said David Hunke, Detroit Free Press publisher and chief executive of the partnership with the Detroit News.

If he's serious about fundamental change, he should consider making one or both of the papers free on the days they're not delivered to homes. While the bean counters might be horrified at losing single-copy revenue, those quarters would be replaced with dollars from new advertising. Free papers reach a much broader audience than paid papers. The pass-along rate is higher, meaning advertisers get more bang for their buck. Free papers tend to reach the younger readers advertisers desire.

To prove all of that, make one of the papers free and keep the other paid. Run them with separate management teams. After a year, see which one is ahead, and convert the other to that format.