Two newspapers on the Olympic Peninsula announced that they’ll stop delivering papers themselves and turn to postal delivery this month.
The Peninsula Daily News’ move is particularly surprising. The Port Angeles newspaper is canceling its Sunday edition, generally the most profitable, and shifting it to Saturday when mail is delivered.
Also switching to mail delivery is its sister publication, The Sequim Gazette weekly.
Many small newspapers in Washington and across the country already rely on postal delivery.
Expect more to make this switch as the industry continues adjusting to a steep and persistent decline in advertising sales, which used to help cover delivery costs.
Now delivery costs and complexity are soaring with gas prices and a challenging labor market.
“Everything is up in the air, everything is lean, everything is being questioned,” said Fred Obee, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. “It’s a difficult time for newspapers for sure.”
Postal reforms passed this month by Congress should stabilize the U.S. Postal Service and potentially limit rate increases. That could make its newspaper-delivery service more attractive to publishers, who can arrange to bring papers overnight to post offices for same day delivery.
Such services, and reduced rates offered to newspapers, have been part of the Postal Service’s mission since it was created in the 1790s. The Founding Fathers created a postal subsidy to support a news industry that’s essential to having informed voters and a successful democracy.
Postal delivery isn’t the solution to all the modern news industry’s challenges, but it’s another way struggling papers can further reduce costs.
I do wonder, though, if the result will be further declines in newspaper readership as postal delivery breaks daily and morning newspaper habits.
Postal delivery may be reliable, but the timing can be unpredictable. It also doesn’t bring papers on federal holidays and Sundays.
These changes on top of shrinking newsrooms and newspaper content doesn’t seem like a formula for success, especially if the competition is the endless panoply of online media. Sadly, it seems like this is another step toward the demise of printed newspapers.
The Salt Lake Tribune, which is now a nonprofit, shifted from a daily paper to a weekly delivered by mail in 2020. It started with just a weekend edition but added a Wednesday edition in January. A letter to the editor welcomed the additional paper but lamented the switch to mail delivery.
Readers Pat and Linda Brimmer wrote that “your decision to bypass carriers and send it by mail makes no sense whatsoever.”
“Typically, we do not receive our mail delivery until around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon,” they wrote. “By that time, we have already read the online edition and the print edition is superfluous. What we would like is to read the print edition while sipping our coffee first thing in the morning. That is the true newspaper experience which we enjoyed for so many years.”
The Sequim and Port Angeles papers are owned by Sound Publishing, a subsidiary of Canadian publishing giant Black Press that’s made cutbacks in Washington state papers since the pandemic began.
Another Sound paper, the Aberdeen Daily World, switched a year ago to mail delivery outside of its core areas in Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Cosmopolis.
Sound Publishing’s president and its publisher in Port Angeles didn’t return my calls.
In a news story announcing the change, Publisher Terry Ward said that it “promises to be better for our readers in that delivery should become more consistent, especially as we streamline our processes to ensure same-day delivery.”
An unsigned story announcing the change in the Daily News said it’s become increasingly difficult over the last year to fill newspaper carrier positions in the region.
“It was never easy to fill those contracted positions because of the late hours, remote areas some of them cover, and the sometimes unwelcoming weather, but the pandemic made it even harder,” the story said.
It also apologized for the shortage of carriers resulting in unreliable delivery, which is a challenge for newspapers of all sizes.
National newspaper associations pushed for postal reforms, which increase the postal service’s funding and restructured its pension obligations. That should result in fewer rate increases.
The National Newspaper Association, which represents community newspapers, is now seeking to overturn an 8% USPS rate increase.
“At this point, USPS is in far better financial position than projected in 2020, while the industry is dealing with inflation, rising paper prices and labor shortages,” Tonda Rush, NNA general counsel, said via email.
The Daily News publisher said in the announcement that its partnership with the postal service is a “win-win.” I hope so, but I’m not sure readers will agree.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press web site here.