Register arrives as Tribune undercuts the Times

Photo of LA Register staff: Leonard Ortiz/Register

The Orange County Register on Sunday published a staff photo from this week's new addition to the Los Angeles County newspaper scene — the LA Register, due Wednesday — and a story detailing some of the plans: 50-60 pages weekdays, 80-90 pages on Sundays, with Register sports coverage and a staff of 40 covering news in the Los Angeles area. The paper will be sold in 5,500 retail locations, the OCR story says, "including grocery and convenience stores and on news racks. The paper will cost $1.50 weekdays and $2 on weekends. Home delivery is expected to begin in May." The story is outside the pay wall — as I have to assume LA coverage will be, at least at first.

I remain in the hopeful but not optimistic camp. There hasn't been a new newspaper tried in LA County with the resources of the Register, so that is a positive. Even the Regster, though, had to include some skepticism in the story, given that the Register is a new brand coming to a market that barely supports the newspapers it has, and that some of owner Aaron Kushner's assumptions — for instance, that there is a significant bloc of right-of-center readers looking to pay for a new local news source, or that the Register brings anything unique to LA — may not be fully grounded in reality. There are probably just as many lefties dissatisfied with the politics of the LA Times as conservatives. Plus the Register team in LA, while probably just fine, does not come with any track record of accomplishment that makes readers here pay attention. They are going to have to earn readership day by day and story by story. And maybe they will.

The Register is also rolling out some hyper-local weeklies and monthlies, including in the Valley, but the first reviews I've heard of the Register's remake of the Easy Reader (converting it from a familiar tabloid to an old-fashioned broadsheet lacking in community chops) don't make me hopeful there.

From the Register story:

A news staff of more than 40 will be based in downtown Los Angeles and in bureaus in Hermosa Beach and the San Fernando Valley. They will join the Los Angeles County-based team already producing the Long Beach Register. The new Los Angeles Register also will draw on the staff and resources of the other Freedom newspapers....

Ken Doctor, a former newspaperman who is now a Bay Area media consultant, thinks the Los Angeles Register could be a modest success partly because the paper will not try to provide blanket coverage of the area. “It’s more of a Pac-Man strategy, where they will be munching around the edges of the L.A. Times and the newspapers of (the Los Angeles News Group),” he said.

Doctor thinks it could take up to three years for the Los Angeles Register to make even minor inroads into the market.

He noted, however, that Kushner has the advantage of limiting the costs of the expansion because the Register is not hiring additional staff. The Los Angeles reporters are moving from the Orange County newsroom.

“They'll do some single copy sales and get some advertisers that they already have to extend into L.A. County,” he said. “It can be successful because it’s going to be largely incremental revenue – they'll make more money on each single copy than what it will cost them and the reporters are already a sunk cost.”

Doctor went on to say that the Register is coming into a market where the existing papers have a cloudy future. The new Tribune Publishing company that will operate the Los Angeles Times is going to be saddled with a scary amount of debt, the Chicago Tribune reported last week. And Digital First, parent company of the Los Angeles News Group that runs the Daily News and other papers, is making cuts nationwide.

I heard one sane-sounding speculation over the weekend: that Kushner just has to keep a foot in LA County long enough for the new parent of the Times to go out of business and put up the LAT for sale at a deep discount. Kushner might then be able to afford to buy the Times, something he reportedly can't do now. Kushner insists that he has a ten-year business plan for the new LA Register. We all start to see on Wednesday, provided the paper is given away free on the web and the stories make a splash. Otherwise, the community of readers who actually consume LA Register stories could be basically unnoticeable.

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Read the LA Times response to Los Angeles Magazine's piece
NYT thins more in Los Angeles, and the LAT hires locally