Friday, November 28, 2014


Civic Skinny

Price of your Register is going up. Probably.

7/31/2013

The price of The Des Moines Register is going up.

Again.

Here’s the gobbledegook start of a memo sent to all Register employees late Friday:

“We wanted to make you aware of an important corporate companywide initiative that will be affecting our subscribers’ subscription rates starting on September 1, 2013.

“Gannett has contracted Mather Economics to implement a market based pricing model at all Gannett newspapers. Mather evaluates each subscriber upon renewal based on financial modeling against the subscriber’s demographic and current subscription information. This approach is very similar to your current cable packages and other publications in the industry already use this method of pricing.”

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And here’s the part that’s in English:

“As a result of this change in calculating subscription rates, price increases will affect most of the Register’s customers.”

The newspaper’s dwindling number of subscribers started receiving “price notification letters” on Saturday. The increase — whatever it is — follows by about 15 months an increase of 20 percent to 40 percent in the price of the Register, which last year started forcing people to pay for the Web version of the newspaper whether they wanted it or not. Those changes were made, then-publisher Laura Hollingsworth said at the time, because the subscription model was “broken.” Apparently, it still is.

The stated price for the daily and Sunday Register currently is $300 a year. Fifteen months ago, it was $223.

The note to employees said the company expects so many calls about the changes this week that the Customer Service Center will not be able to handle them all.

“So if you should field any of these (overflow) calls,” the note to employees said, “please have them call” the Customer Service Center. Which, of course, can’t handle them all, the note noted.

Footnote: It’s kind of dicey to base subscription prices in part on demographic information. Will South of Grand subscribers pay more than Sixth and Forest subscribers? Or less? “Will one demographic for the varied pricing be neighborhood, as in higher rates for sparse penetration or higher crime areas?” asks a guy who has seen the memo and who remembers when the government came after banks for altering mortgage terms by location. “If so, add a redline to the Register logo.”

Meantime, the paper plans to drop its weekly TV guide, which now comes in the Sunday Register. If you want to replace it, you can buy something called TV Weekly for $39 a year if you also subscribe to the Register, although it hasn’t yet mentioned that price in the newspaper. (The price for nonsubscribers in this market is $51.48 a year.) But if on the order form you say you subscribe to the Charlotte Observer, the price is $34.36, according to the magazine’s website.

That email to all employees was signed by “Executive Leadership Team” but came from Kurt Allen, who is listed on the masthead as “vice president, marketing and strategy,” even though he joined The Tennessean on July 15 with a similar title. The story in The Tennessean said he “previously” was the vice president in Des Moines, though he apparently holds the title in both cities.

The Register continues to operate without a publisher. Hollingsworth left the Register for the Tennessean earlier this summer, and she hasn’t been replaced. She continues to oversee the paper from Nashville, and when the Register gets around to naming a new publisher that person will report to Hollingsworth, not to corporate headquarters in Virginia. …

More than you want to know: Mather Economics is a consulting company based in Roswell, Ga. It “utilizes econometric analysis to develop implementable business solutions.” That sentence alone would have raised the hackles of the great English teacher Miss Hall. “Don’t utilize utilize,” she once said. “Use use.” And she might have said: Take out implementable. If a solution isn’t implementable, it isn’t a solution.

Miss Hall also would have been confused by this sentence in a Register story the other day: “Barron…is a fourth-generation Mexican immigrant….” Huh? …

Standard and Poor’s has given a triple-A rating to $38 million in new bonding and $22.5 million in refinancing from the city of Des Moines and affirmed its AAA rating on existing debt. That’s a big deal “in light of our ongoing challenges with sluggish revenues, franchise fee refunds and legislative actions that will further weaken future revenues,” city manager Rick Clark said in a memo to the mayor and city council last week. “This may not seem like a big deal,” Clark told Cityview, but “it is quite an accomplishment to continue this high rating.”

A high rating saves taxpayers money because it means the city has to pay less interest on its debt than on debt considered riskier — that is, debt with a lower rating.

In issuing its rating, Standard and Poor’s cited the “stable and diverse” economy, the city’s “strong reserves…proactive management and sound policies” and its “moderate debt burden.” …

Some stuff left on the cutting-room floor from a recent column about pay: Greg Edwards, the head of the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, earned $200,817 plus $23,999 in “other compensation from the organization and related organizations” in the year ended June 30, 2012.

Susan Moritz, the executive director of Friends of Iowa Public Television, had a salary of $141,512 and “other compensation” of $27,235 in the year ended June 30, 2012. That salary is a bit more than the $139,204 that Dan Miller was paid by the state for running IPTV during that fiscal year. (And speaking of Millers, Thomas H. Miller, a deputy attorney general of the state, made $137,500 in fiscal 2012; Tom Miller, the attorney general, made less — $128,425.)

Sherri Nielsen, the chief executive of Easter Seals of Iowa, was paid $121,727 plus $4,115 in other compensation in the year ended last Aug. 31. And at the Iowa State Education Association — basically the teachers’ union — nine employees made more than $145,000 in the year ended Aug. 31, 2012. Tops among them: Executive Director Mary Jane Cobb, who had pay of $159,389 plus $40,840 in “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” …

Cityview joins the many people mourning the death of 20-year-old John Cook, a fine young man with a nice smile and a courageous heart. CV

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