Starting next week, we’re making some major changes to your Manhattan Mercury. These changes will affect your reading habits, and I want to make sure you understand what’s happening and why.
First, we are cutting back our print schedule to three days a week. The print newspaper will be published on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus a weekend edition. The current schedule has five print days a week; we are eliminating the Wednesdays and Friday print editions.
Second, delivery will be by the U.S. Mail. We expect your newspaper will arrive in the mail the day of publication. Since the Mercury has long been delivered in the afternoon, this will not change the schedule much, and for some subscribers, this will actually mean earlier delivery. But it does mean the paper will no longer be delivered by our own carrier force.
Third, the weekend edition will come out on Saturday, rather than Sunday. We intend for it to contain all the features you’re accustomed to; what will change is the time of delivery. It will arrive with Saturday’s mail. This means some trade-offs. Reports in the print edition on high school sports and activities from Friday night will be more timely, but news and sports from Saturday will be covered online.
But that brings me to a larger point: We are actually publishing more news, and publishing it in a more timely fashion, than ever before. The level of service we provide, as a local news enterprise, has never been higher. We have a way to deliver that service to you immediately, at no additional cost to you, and at a relatively low additional cost to us.
That delivery method, of course, is the internet. We’ve been evolving in this direction since 1996, when we launched TheMercury.com.
On the days when we don’t publish a print edition, we will still be publishing news. We will deliver it to subscribers’ e-mail addresses, similar to the way we have delivered the print edition to people’s physical addresses, for generations. If you subscribe to the print edition, we strongly encourage you to get signed up for full digital access, which you get for no additional cost. Need help? We can do it for you. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Our print subscription price will remain the same, which is less than a dollar a day, less than half the cost of a cup of coffee. Lower-cost options for digital-only subscriptions are also available.
So that’s essentially what’s happening. The other part that I promised at the outset was: Why?
It’s pretty simple. We have to cut expenses. If we don’t, we won’t be able to continue to provide the service that we exist to provide.
The coronavirus pandemic has slashed our revenues from advertising. As with a lot of local businesses, we simply have to adapt to survive. Restaurants have shifted to catering and delivery. Schools are delivering classroom education via videoconference. Grocery stores feature online ordering and delivery.
Our advertising revenues had already dwindled over the years, sucked away to the coasts by Internet giants Google and Facebook, and, in a different way, by Craigslist. Because of the patience of local family ownership, we’ve survived that while sustaining our newsgathering operations. But the pandemic has dramatically accelerated those trends, and we don’t expect things to change back.
I would note here that many other newspapers have taken similar steps. The paper in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a community very similar to ours, just a few months ago adopted exactly the same publication cycle. The paper in Rochester, Minnesota, a city twice as big as Manhattan, now puts out two print editions a week. Closer to home, the Emporia Gazette comes out twice a week in print. The K-State Collegian, the student newspaper that once came out five days a week during the school year, now prints one edition a week. The Kansas City Star cut one print day, and, as you may have read, is shutting down its massive printing press.
I should note that we are still operating our printing press here and can handle a variety of print needs. I don’t anticipate that print will ever entirely go away. Too many people — myself included — prefer reading that way, and too many businesses want to use print to reach customers. We also continue to offer a strong variety of services to help businesses reach potential local customers.
But hard-copy anything is clearly giving way to digital distribution. Nobody goes to pick up VHS tapes at Blockbuster; very few even get Netflix DVDs in mail anymore. Everybody types in a username and password, and — bing! — there’s your service.
These changes to our business I do not relish. I am a fourth-generation print newspaper guy. My first paying gig in life was as a paper boy — Route 52, up Hunting Avenue, over on Canfield and the cul-de-sacs up against Lee School, around on a little stretch of Anderson Avenue, across on Lee Street, and back up and over the hill on College Heights. I can still throw a rubber-banded newspaper underhand, with a slow backward spin, and make it land gently on a customer’s doorstep.
My great-grandfather, Fay N. Seaton, took over the newspaper when he bought the business in 1915, saying he considered the newspaper’s readers his “personal friends,” and that he wanted to serve them well. My dad, Edward Seaton, who still works every day and remains the company chairman, built a new plant and bought a new printing press, and won state and national awards for print quality and journalistic excellence. When I joined up in 1996, the first two projects I took on were the creation of a digital archive for our own purposes and the creation of a website. So I guess the fact that it now falls to me to make a larger step in the digital direction makes some generational sense.
But, as with my great-grandfather and my dad, many of you are personal friends. Our goal here at The Mercury, as it really always has been, is to serve you well. What we hope, more than anything, is that you’ll continue to value the service we provide, whatever form that service happens to take.
If you have questions or comments, I would welcome them. My e-mail is email@example.com, or you can reach me on the phone at 785-776-2200, ext. 255. Again, I would encourage you to make sure you can access The Mercury online; if you have questions about that, the best thing to do is e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.