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Pleasing its customers to keep them coming back for more is any business’s first priority, so it doesn’t make any sense for the Times-Picayune to peeve off its readers the way it has done over the past few months.

Of course, this assumes that the T-P considers its readers to be its customers. But does it?

In an online Poynter chat that I recommended in my Sept 18 post, “The great newspaper liquidation”, Reuters columnist Jack Shafer said:

What [the Newhouse family is] telling the market by printing on the three days of the week that most advertisers advertise is that the papers exist to please advertisers, not readers … Obviously if the newspaper existed for readers, it would publish daily as it has for more than a century. By cutting back frequency on their profitable daily, the Newhouse family is saying that they’d rather make more money by giving readers less … Publishers have traditionally gone after both advertisers and readers. But the play in New Orleans is pretty transparently designed to make one constituency–advertisers–happy and the other–readers–sad. I know of no daily newspaper subscriber who wishes his beloved newspaper came to his door less frequently.

That the paper’s new publication schedule has been largely dictated by its advertisers was confirmed by NOLA Media Group president Ricky Mathews in the paper’s May 24 announcement:

Mathews said the three days of publication were chosen in part so that the print edition is distributed across the entire week, but also because Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays have proved to be the most valuable days for the newspaper’s advertisers.

And let’s not forget that Circulation Director Philip Ehrhardt promised in his September 17 letter that subscribers will “receive the Black and Gold Extra on the days following Saints game (sic) and … also the big Thanksgiving Day paper.” What will these special issues have in common? High readership, yes, but also lots and lots of advertising revenue!

Let’s face it: Profit is the Newhouse family’s most important goal*, sustained advertising  generates the profit, and readers are seen primarily as a means to that end. But despite, or perhaps because of, the Newhouses’ efforts to milk the paper by keeping its customers advertisers coming back for more for as long as possible, Shafer says the future is grim:

By putting eight or nine of their newspapers in the hospice, with more its titles to follow, the Newhouse family has done us a great service, confirming what some of us have been saying for the last decade: Newspapers can’t win the death race.

* Senior Newhouse brothers Si and Donald are the 46th and 51st richest Americans, worth $7.4 and $6.6 billion respectively, according to the latest “Forbes 400 Richest Americans”. (In comparison, Saints owner Tom Benson, who offered to buy the T-P from the Newhouses’ Advance Publications, is way down on the list at #360 and is only worth a measly $1.2 billion.)