Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Student Subscription Controversy

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Student Subscription Controversy

Article excerpt

Student subscription controversy

A controversial proposal to change an Audit Bureau of Circulations rule to get newspapers into schools at a cheap rate is likely to be recommended but it faces a tough fight before the Audit Bureau board, which must approve it.

That was the impression gleaned at the recent conference of the Audit Bureau of Circulations in Los Angeles, where the issue was discussed.

Richard T. Schlossberg III, a member of the American Newspaper Publishers-Newspaper Advertising Bureau-ABC liaison committee, told E&P that he expected the committee to endorse the proposal by Roger S. Kintzel, publisher of the Austin (Texas) American Statesman, but noted that it is more attractive to publishers than advertisers.

Schlossberg is group vice president/newspapers for the Times Mirror Co.

His observation was borne out at a conference newspaper session in which a major advertiser displayed little enthusiasm for the idea.

In a letter last just to ABC chairman Dan F. Pearson, Kintzel had suggested that an "NIE or School Subscription Rate" be added to the published rates listed in the Audit Bureau bylaws. The change would eliminate the requirement that papers to schools be sold at 50% of the home-delivered or single-copy rate to be counted as paid circulation (E&P, July 13, 1991).

Kintzel warned that Whittle Communications and Turner Broadcasting are making a powerful bid for student interest with free in-school television programs.

In the conference panel on "Critical ABC/Newspaper Marketing Issues," flexible pricing was the main topic of discussion, which appeared to foreshadow arguments that will be made by Audit Bureau board members when they chew over the school-pricing question.

The newspaper members of the panel generally favored an examination of ABC rules to allow more flexible price policies. On the other hand, S. Scott Harding, national retail advertising manager for Sears Roebuck & Co., appeared resistant to any rule change that would allow cuts in a newspaper's cover price.

Harding conceded that the changing marketplace calls for new ideas by newspapers and that pricing was a matter for them to determine but added, "I would caution you to maintain the importance and perceived value of paid circulation."

Harding, a former Audit Bureau board member, asserted that in the matter of pricing there is a "very thin line" separating what advertisers consider acceptable paid circulation and circulation that becomes "suspect."

On the question of a lower school price, Harding asked. "Can you charge less than 50%? Yes, but don't call it paid circulation."

The newspaper panelists agreed that changing Audit Bureau rules on pricing generally will be an "emotional issue" in the coming months.

William G. Green, an Audit Bureau board member and publisher of the Huntsville (Ala.) Times, said it was a "good idea to get more newspapers into the classroom." He pointed out that many schools cannot afford to pay a paper's regular price.

Lance R. Primis, president and general manager of the New York Times, said, "I come down hard on the side of encouraging discussion that allows pricing to be flexible yet contains enough buyer input as to what is acceptable."

However, Schlossberg, who also was on the panel, observed that publishers themselves have "strong differences" on pricing, but he predicted that pricing will be an element in marketing strategies. …

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