Each week, for better or worse, our company publishes a newspaper (and a related website and fairly strong social media page), and you won’t find our business anywhere close to a Forbes index of top-notch companies in the world.
Heck, forget the world. If Forbes narrowed its geographical boundaries to this city block, I’m pretty sure The Leader would rank third among the three businesses in our complex. Our neighbors are a construction company and a dance studio, and you should see how many kids pop out of minivans wearing all kinds of funky clothes and downright giddy smiles.
If you’re an investor, you’d probably place most of your capital in construction, a little fun money in the dance studio, and you’d run like mad from the newspaper. You wouldn’t be alone.
For starters, we deliver our publication on real, live paper taken from trees. (Actually, our paper has been recycled a couple of times, but I promise it once came from trees.) Then, we hire a team of drivers, in real, live cars that burn real, live gas, to drive around our neighborhoods and deliver these dead trees, rather than just zipping you a PDF across a fiber-optic cable buried deep below the ground.
But those aren’t even the reasons you’d run from an investment in newspapers. In 2017, it is projected that the tag team of Google and Facebook – GooBook – will account for $52 billion in advertising revenue. To put that in perspective, the entire advertising spent in the United States last year was $183 billion, of which The Leader received exactly .000005 percent. I know, that’s a whole lot of zeros, and they happen to be on the wrong side of the whole number.
The digital titans aren’t the only ones that have hurt our industry. It turns out, our industry’s forefathers – the ones that came about a decade before my foray into ownership – are the real culprits here. In 2008 and 2009, when our nation went through our Great Recession, newspaper owners made two horrendous mistakes.
First, they decided they couldn’t stand to make less profit (and they were making a ton of it back then). So instead of understanding that a few bad years, and maybe a dip of the stock, weren’t the worst things in the world, they cut the legs out from under their own companies.
These big papers took a machete to their newsrooms, sending thousands upon thousands of journalists out into the streets, where they found better jobs working for public relation shops or, gasp, digital companies.
When newspapers threw out their content creators – their journalists – they also completely ruined the one product they had to sell: Their content. Crazy, right?
But that was only the first of the double-edge idiocy. Back in 2009, newspaper owners saw all things holy about the internet. Ownership got addicted to getting pageviews on their websites so they could boast to the rest of the world that they had more people reading them than ever before. Except internet advertising is peanuts compared to real, live, printed on paper, tangible advertisements.
So instead of covering issues important to their communities, these newspaper websites started posting videos of cats jumping at the sight of cucumbers. I know, I know, you all love cats.
That’s right, our industry killed our own products more than any other outside influence – including digital. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at the book industry. Did you know that in 2016, in the United States alone, the sale of e-books (digital books for your tablets) declined 18.7 percent, while the sale of paper books increased 7.5 percent?
It’s not just about having everything on a screen all the time. Sometimes people like picking up a real copy of something. And if the content is good, people will pay for it.
Which is a long way of getting back to my unorthodox thank-you.
Every year, I write a personal letter to our readers asking them to consider taking part in our Voluntary Pay Program.
We do this because it’s expensive to print a newspaper every week, and GooBook continues to take our advertisers.
And every year, you can’t imagine how humbling it is to see envelopes (and online donations) come back to our office. In a sense, it feels like our readers are investing in us.
I’m not sure there’s any way to explain how gratifying that is for someone like me, who constantly walks around our office telling our employees that what we do really does matter.
It’s not hard to tell people why they shouldn’t invest in newspapers. But without fail, you – our readers – continue to invest in us every, single year. You send notes of encouragement. You tell us to “Keep Lynn Ashby.” You tell us that you look forward to The Leader every week. You tell us that you’re new to the neighborhood and you can’t wait to get a paper.
I’m not sure what we do differently around here, but your support literally raises the hair on my arms every year, and this year has been no different.
For those of you who have supported The Leader once again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. If you’d still like to help, we’ll try to give you a return on that investment.