Media analyst Ken Doctor got his latest briefing from Aaron Kushner on the progress of the experiment at the Orange County Register. Doctor adds some research and analysis of his own and concludes, in essence, it's on track but still too soon to tell where this this all headed: success or failure. He says the Los Angeles Register will have a dedicated staff of about 75, should launch in March, and as I have been guessing, will first target the weak spots in the local newspaper landscape represented by LA News Group papers in places like Whittier and South Bay. There also may be a softening of the $365 annually pay wall. Read the whole thing at Nieman Journalism Lab, but here are some of the highlights that caught my eye.
- "Soon, the O.C. newsroom may have 100 fewer newsroom staffers than it had a few months ago — though still more than it had before Kushner arrived."
- "At least a couple of the much-ballyhooed Register local content expansions will be cut back, as five-day editions go weekly."
- "Some employees got mailed notices that the company had bought term life insurance on them — just as a hedge and a way to more fully fund the pension plan, which is the named beneficiary in case of individual demise. That may be actuarially sound — but given the confluence of events, it left some employees feeling a bit ooky."
- "2013 was an unprofitable year for Freedom, with the company likely down in low single-digit millions month-by-month....The Register that Kushner and Spitz took over operated essentially on a break-even basis, with total revenues in the neighborhood of $175 million."
- "The Register’s hard paywall sent traffic down 40 percent, and with that came double-digit losses in digital revenue — which Kushner acknowledges is a quite small part of his revenue mix. Though sources put the pre-Kushner digital revenue at more than $20 million, he says that number is way high. In any event, reader revenue gains were countered by significant digital ad loss."
- "The Register’s continuing embrace of print — especially as it has moved into Long Beach and now into L.A. — is perplexing. The rest of the newspaper industry is moving away from it, at differing speeds."
- "The impact of the [LA County] forays may be marginal, aiming to pick up low five digits of circulation. The Long Beach experience, unsurprisingly, has shown that the gains come mostly in single-copy sales, not subscriptions; there are few non-subscribers clamoring for 7-day home delivery anywhere these days. While the L.A. Register is claiming countywide coverage, it will especially focus on rival Digital First Media communities — Torrance, Whittier, Pasadena — after previously launching the Long Beach Register in another DFM territory."