Next reduction in newspaper frequency will be with a whimper, not a bang

When word leaked in May 2012 that Advance Communications planned to reduce home delivery frequency of several of its newspapers – including the New Orleans Times-Picayune – from seven to three days, it caused a large, ongoing explosion in the community and the media industry.

Community leaders reacted passionately, following the stages of grief. They bargained with the Newhouse family – first not to follow through on the reduction strategy, then to allow the community to buy the newspaper outright. (Both unsuccessful.) Community leaders then looked to local news partnerships between NPR-affiliate WWNO, NolaVie and the non-profit startup The Lens, promising investments to fill the gap.

The Baton Rouge Advocate, which had recently ceased home delivery in New Orleans but sensing an opportunity, brought it back. The Advocate is now for sale.

And media experts and pundits became guest residents, arriving for town hall meetings on the future of media, the effects on the community, the economics of print vs. digital, the evils of conglomerated ownership, etc.

It’s an explosion that continues to echo.

But Wednesday saw a much larger stake driven through the heart of daily newspaper delivery. The U.S. Postal Service plans to stop delivering mail on Saturdays, beginning in August. That includes delivering newspapers, according to the National Newspaper Association, which represents community newspapers.

The NNA said that 30 percent of its members mail a Saturday paper. Many of its members deliver only six days a week, and Saturday tends to be their largest, ad-filled paper.

Paul Boyle, who manages government relations for the Newspaper Association of America, told Poynter that newspapers need to prepare for the “inevitable. Newspapers and other mailers need to understand that is probably going to occur at some point in time.”

With USPS exiting the Saturday route, magazines, catalogs and mostly small, community newspapers will look into private delivery. But there is a slim chance that will be as affordable as the postal rates the NNA and NAA have successfully lobbied for the industry.

So many will simply cease daily delivery. And they will do it quietly.

Strategic newspapers will look at this as an opportunity to shed other money-losing distribution days. Starting with you, Tuesday.

And because this will happen in Sedalia, MO, and not NOLA, don’t expect the groundswell of grief, bargaining or even punditry.

Daily, printed home delivery of most newspapers is going away. Some would say that Advance made its decision for its newspapers and the USPS is making that decision for the 30 percent of NNA members.

The truth is, with digital ad spend on track to outpace traditional media sooner than expected and with the total number of pieces of mail falling 25 percent since 2006, the marketplace is making that decision. Legacy infrastructure – whether postal or print – is just playing catchup.