Friday, March 20, 2009

Notes from the age of austerity

Posted By on 03.20.09 at 04:08 PM

Time Out Chicago is dropping its newsstand price from $2.99 to $1.99. Editor in chief Frank Sennett tells Crain's chicagobusiness.com the change is a "price test" that he hopes will bring the magazine new readers and subscribers but won't cost TOC content or jobs. Sennett wouldn't talk to us, but according to chicagobusiness.com he denies there have been "significant layoffs" lately. 

Which means, I guess, that the layoff on February 20 of marketing director Tony Barnett was significant only to Barnett. "I'm still reeling from it," he told me Friday. He'd been at TOC since it was launched in 2004. "I think they're cutting back to a lean mean machine," said Barnett. "I think obviously expectations aren't being met."

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine is now offering a "special rate of $7.89 for 10 issues" (if you act fast). While the Chicago Sun-Times, taking the opposite tack, announces that it's raising the price of its daily paper from 50 cents to 75 cents. I just got a rueful letter telling me that my subscription will cost more too. But I was assured that I'll continue to get "Chicago's best local news coverage with columnists Mark Brown, Michael Sneed, Mary Mitchell and Richard Roeper." No disrespect intended, but Sun-Times news coverage rises and falls with the talents of its actual reporters, none of whom was mentioned (as mere reporters never are).

And I've just received an exclusive e-mail from the Chicago Tribune telling me that as of April 4, the TV guide will move tofrom the Saturday fromto the Sunday paper. "As a benefit of being a Subscriber Advantage member, you are the first to be notified of this change," the Tribune confides, explaining the change "was designed to give you more time to plan your TV schedule as well as allow us to provide you with more accurate and up-to-date TV listings." No mention of the savings in printing costs from switching from the most- to the least-read paper of the week.

As I don't intuitively understand why the TV guide would become more accurate for being printed a day earlier, I call a number suggested by the Tribune to anyone seeking more information and find myself speaking to a pleasant young man in the Philippines. He's not a master of the subject, but he's able to explain that schedules change from week to week, and by getting the guide on Saturday I've got an extra day to bone up on the changes. He mentions CSI as a show I wouldn't want to miss because I hadn't had time to do my homework.

And he confides that changes coming April 4 go well beyond anything the Tribune has so far revealed. For one, Brewster Rockit is being dropped from the Sunday paper. For another, so is TV Jumble

Back to Time Out Chicago. I reported last December that Time Out New York, which owns half of TOC, was up for sale. It's not a good time to sell a magazine, and the magazine was soon taken off the table.

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