Imagine Coke letting Pepsi deliver its goods to retailers. Or UPS allowing FedEx to ship packages.
That’s roughly what the California-based Orange County Register is doing in its latest move to reduce overhead. The daily newspaper (I worked there from 1992-2001) that serves an area of roughly 3 million people has reached a deal to allow the Los Angeles Times, its chief rival in the area, to deliver its product.
Most consumers won’t notice, or care, but it’s still another sign of what means newspapers are using to stay afloat in a tough recession and increasing competition from online products.
The Register has been among the most drastic in reductions, with at least five rounds of personnel downsizing since 2001. Also, the paper took the drastic step of outsourcing some editing functions to a company in India, on an experimental basis. No word yet on whether the move is permanent. (Updated 9/2/09: The Register’s parent company, Freedom Communications, has filed for bankruptcy protection.)
This also shows how fast the metrics have shifted in the daily newspaper world. Early in this decade, the Register still was in bitter competition with the Times for print ad dollars. The OCR held a 63% market share in Orange County among local readers, and the push was to get the figure to 67%, or two to one. “The difference in ad revenue would be huge,” then-Publisher N. Christian Anderson said.
Now, things are different. The Times, which is facing revenue problems of its own, doesn’t compete as heavily for OC readers and advertisers.
And as recently as 2006, the Register produced a second newspaper, the OC Post. It was a five day a week tabloid modeled after European publications. It was largely designed as a quick read to lure people to the Web site. But the Post never took, and it since has been merged into one of the Register’s more stable weeklies in the area.
Anderson, who put the Register on the map in the early ’80s as editor, also has been replaced, as owner Freedom Communications put the paper into its community weeklies division.
This supports what I said in an earlier blog post (“AJC cuts include cities”), that printing and circulation costs were newspapers’ biggest problem these days, not readers and newsroom salaries. The growth and evolution will come online. Get used to it.