Minding the store during a recession

Friday, March 13, 2009

Given the condition of the economy and hearing on TV newscasts about newspapers closing, it's not surprising that people ask about the stability of the Marshall County Tribune, your hometown newspaper delivering news, advertisements and general information twice a week.

Our general manager, Jim Ward, spoke to the local chapter of the AARP recently when he compared the number of well-known daily newspapers having trouble to the many more that are not having trouble. Recently, there have been seven metropolitan newspapers - all in the top 100 markets - that have closed, or filed Chapter 11 petitions with federal courts to protect them from creditors while their finances are reorganized.

There are more than 1,400 daily newspapers in this country, and more than 6,200 weeklies. The seven well-known papers in trouble represent one half of one percent of the total number of dailies.

And, there's a trade journal story reporting county weekly newspapers in the country are not in the same boat as the big city dailies. The Marshall County Tribune is no exception. Nor is it inoculated against massive forces in the world. To that extent, we're a lot like other businesses and government.

Marshall County commissioners compared a decline in sales tax revenue here to the larger percentage decline in places like Murfreesboro and Franklin where there are big enclosed shopping malls. The biggest source of revenue for Franklin has been sales taxes. That's just the opposite of most counties. They have property taxes as their largest revenue stream. Our commissioners concluded that their constituents buy their gasoline, groceries and other staples and services here. They're the things you can't do without, so the decline in the percentage of sales tax revenue here isn't as great as where malls are located.

Therefore, it might be said that the Tribune, like the county, is somewhat insulated from the economic downturn. However, just like other merchants, our general manager keeps a watchful eye on expenses and revenue, in particular our paper's circulation and single copy revenue from our news vending machines.

Jim has been comparing the number of papers sold to the revenue in each vending machine. He's reluctant to say that it's a measure of theft, but when the circumstances were described to the city attorney, Bill Haywood, he said the offense is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.

It could be argued that opening the vending machine with the cost of one copy and taking three copies is three counts of one misdemeanor.

Maybe it ought to be a source of pride that people want our product so much, but it does cut into our revenue stream.

Taking eight copies of the paper is the value of two gallons of milk or three shares of GM stock.

Jim's also been examining the sale of papers from news racks in different locations. Some of that is to decide on the best location for racks and how many papers to make available in each rack.

Meanwhile, we're watching local events, reporting the news and monitoring vending machines.