Winnipeg Free Press, you know that I love you and I think that you're the best paper in town (for whatever that's worth), but sometimes you guys really do just make the dumbest decisions possible.
And Free Press subscribers, today was a special day: the very last day that a Sunday paper, one of the seven days in your seven-day subscription (or one of the two weekend days in your weekend subscription), was delivered directly to your home at the price you'd already paid for it. I hope you enjoyed it appropriately!
Next Saturday will mark the launch of the Free Press' combined "Weekend Edition", because I know everybody in the city has been clamoring and champing at the bit to read the Faith section on a Saturday. Then, the Sunday immediately following that will see the launch of an entirely different product -- "On7", the Free Press' new branded tabloid that can only be procured by going out and purchasing it for an extra dollar (or dollar-fifty; apparently they still haven't decided) somewhere else.
Now, follow this logic. According to the official reasoning posted above, the reason that the Winnipeg Free Press Sunday Edition has to be cancelled now is because twenty-four years ago Sunday shopping didn't take off like they thought it would. (No, seriously.) So now as a result they're cancelling the Sunday edition entirely, instead replacing it with a new paper that you can only acquire during your... Sunday shopping... that you don't actually do... because if you did go out shopping on Sundays in the first place, they would still be publishing a Sunday Free Press.
If this train of reasoning doesn't make sense to you, you obviously don't run a newspaper.
Similarly, it makes complete sense to them but not to you or I when the publisher of the paper announces that daily subscribers "will not have any price increase". (At least, not this year.) Really, Bob? Because I could have sworn that paying a flat rate for seven of a given item, and then paying that same flat rate for six of that same item, means that the price for each item increases. I mean, I don't run a newspaper or anything, so I can see how the math might be open to interpretation, but I'm pretty confident that I've crunched the numbers properly here.
Who, if anybody, actually believes that this additional paper at an additional cost with no option for home delivery is a good idea? General readers and subscribers reacted strongly in opposition to the move, forcing a rash of comment deletions on the Free Press website, and the expected cutbacks of worker shifts have the unions complaining as well. But didn't they hear about Bob Cox's anecdotal evidence that carriers are looking forward to the day off? You guys don't want to work on Sundays! Who are you going to believe, yourselves or him?
Honestly, I can see where FP Newspapers Income Fund is coming from here, but I really do think that they've completely bungled this situation. If they had just said "times are tough, we're scaling back to six days" and left it at that, they would have had everybody's sympathy. Times are tough! It's a rough time for journalism. And if they'd said "we're altering the Sunday paper to try and readjust for the future, so please enjoy our newly retooled 'On7' each week at no additional cost", they may have seen small pockets of criticism but most folks would still have been willing to put up with it. Heck, they might even have come to like it! But cancelling the subscriber copy of the Sunday paper and immediately replacing it with some light-and-fluffy rag that A) you have to pay additional money for and B) you have to go find for yourself -- well. Maybe not owning a newspaper means that I don't understand marketing, either.
And just as I don't understand the thought processes behind their strategy, I really, really don't understand what this Sunday tabloid is supposed to accomplish in the current market. The promise is for "breaking news, sports and entertainment", which I could have sworn already appeared in the Free Press as is. Is On7 supposed to provide more local content, like the Canstar community papers? You guys own the Canstar community papers. Is it supposed to appeal to younger audiences with local entertainment and alternative news coverage, like Uptown? You guys own Uptown! What are you worried about, the Winnipeg Sun? Ha! The Sun doesn't even have enough people to generate local content the rest of the week, let alone focus any of their efforts on Sundays. What are they going to do, tell the Canadian Press wire to step up their game for the weekends?
But, you know what they say -- when life gives you shit, you make shit-ade. The Free Press' promotional department has been trying valiantly to drum up excitement for this oncoming new paper, which is no mean task when the paper was only admitting to "considering" the change two weeks ago. So if you were leafing through Uptown or The Tab this past Thursday, I'm sure you ran into this full-page spot:
Yeah, uh. Thrilling.
My favourite part is that they attached the new product's opening promotional efforts to a Winnipeg entity that's suffering from unpopular management decisions, struggling to produce any worthwhile results, and facing record lows of audience support. Sounds like an apt connection to me!
There's also a Manitoba Moose-themed advertisement now floating around on city buses, with the same general template motif (translucent black bar, two-word phrase -- in this case "PUCK DROPS" -- and underwhelming orange seven logo) superimposed over the hockey player. I saw it on Friday on my way home from work, but didn't happen to get a picture because that darn bus seemed to have somewhere to be. It did get me thinking about the marketing campaign, though; they may have felt that its simplicity is core to its appeal, or they may have just thrown it together because they had like zero time to prepare it, but what I noticed first and foremost about its simple layout is how easily it could lend itself to mischief and tomfoolery. And I am a man who loves, loves his mischief and tomfoolery.
So I thought, if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the local example they went with, what other ideas must they have rejected during the initial phases? I've taken the liberty of slapping a few examples together.
All the best, Winnipeg Free Press On7! Good luck competing with the internet!