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April 07. 2013 3:39PM

Joe McQuaid's Publisher's Notebook: Thinking of the price of news and bread


 
The mailbag (well, the email bag) and the telephone brought all manner of interesting info to the aging publisher's attention last week.

That "aging publisher" line always makes me think of the late Fred Harrigan, father of friend John Harrigan, and John's predecessor at the News and Sentinel newspaper of Colebrook. Matter of fact, it was Fred who used to refer to himself as such.

And it was son John who left me not one, but two phone messages to the effect that we were blowing the story of the year, if not the century.

That would be the one where the Hooksett woman was charged with misuse of the 911 emergency call system when she used it because she was having trouble ordering Chinese takeout.

What can I say, John? Other than you know how it is with these Chinese takeout stories. You read one and you're hungry for another in a few hours.

The other call, relayed to me by my lovely assistant, Vanna Wyte, was from a self-described senior citizen and longtime subscriber upset with me because I didn't tell her we were raising the price of the paper. Perhaps because we don't often raise the price, some readers are startled when we do. But I wonder if they are up in arms when the price of bread goes up and there isn't a notice to that effect on the loaf.

This senior, very pleasant according to Vanna, said she wasn't sure if we really needed the money. Vanna said she would check and suggested that perhaps if the need were not too great, I could give her a raise. Nice try.

Meanwhile, a thoughtful gentleman wrote in to suggest that rather than increasing the price, we should stop charging altogether and that would get us more readers. He cited his own hometown paper, which is free.

But few free papers get delivered to homes, do they? And free papers rarely, if ever, can serve up the wide array of valuable content that can be reported by a team of professional, experienced news people who know their communities.

All of which takes money, which in our model comes from a combination of advertising payments and from our readers and subscribers.

There are also significant production costs to print the newspaper. I may have misspoke a few columns ago when I said our news company had to decide whether to be in the news and information business or the printing business or both.

One reader took that to mean he would no longer be getting a printed newspaper. Not so!

What we have decided is that the costs are prohibitive to maintain and sufficiently upgrade our 23-year-old press and that it makes sense to seek out a commercial printer with the capacity and technology to handle the state's biggest newspaper. We are in the process of doing just that, which will help us on the expense side of the ledger, which should help us with future price increases.

In one respect, this will be history repeating itself. When my dad started the New Hampshire Sunday News as an independent paper in 1946, he had no press. Instead, he paid to have the printing done in Haverhill, Mass.

The senior reader might have liked the price back then, too. It was 10 cents a copy. Of course, a loaf of "store-bought" bread was about the same. Today, the bread is also a bit higher.

Write to Joe McQuaid at publisher@unionleader.com or via Twitter at?@deucecrew.

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