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Civic Skinny

Sunday, daily Register circulation continues to plummet. And everything you want to know about Ankeny bowling.


The circulation of The Des Moines Register is continuing its free-fall.

Combined print and digital circulation of the Monday-Friday newspaper in the six months ended March 31 totaled 86,982, down 6.7 percent from the 93,304 of a year earlier. Two years ago, the figure was 101,915. Five years ago it was 128,062.

That five-year drop is more than 42,000 daily subscribers, or 32 percent.

The Sunday numbers are just as bad. In the latest six months, the print and digital circulation of the Sunday Register totaled 152,239. A year ago, the number was 171,287; two years ago, it was 200,660. And five years ago, it was 211,668. That’s a one-year drop of 11.1 percent, a five-year drop of 28 percent.

That five-year drop is nearly 60,000 Sunday subscribers.

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The drop is so severe that executives now are leaning on reporters and editors to sell subscriptions to sources and other folks they encounter.

And price-cutting is also severe. Last week, the paper was offering a subscription to the Sunday paper plus full access to the digital edition for $10 — for three months. That’s $3.33 a month for the Sunday and digital — a combination that carries a list price of $20 a month. That’s an 83 percent discount.

In their heyday, the Des Moines newspapers circulated throughout the state. In the 1970s, the Register’s penetration in the state of Iowa was higher than many newspapers’ penetration in their home towns. But the Sunday Register — print and digital — now reaches just four out of 10 households in Polk County, and the daily newspaper reaches barely one in four households, according to audited figures submitted to the Alliance for Audited Media. In some Des Moines zip codes, the household penetration is in the teens.

The Register, which has been owned by Gannett Co. since 1985, does not report its own finances. But in the first quarter, Gannett reported a 28.5 percent drop in operating income from its publishing operations — and an 84.7 percent increase in operating income from its broadcasting operations. The company owns 82 daily newspapers and owns or runs about 45 television stations. In recent years, it has been expanding its TV holdings, buying 20 stations last year and another half-dozen this year.

It’s increasingly clear that the corporate strategy will lead eventually to spinning off the newspapers into a separate company, as News Corp. and Tribune Co. have done with their newspapers and as Time Warner just did with its magazines. “We never rule anything out,” Gannett chief executive Gracia Martore said a year ago in answer to a question about a possible spinoff. One well-connected Des Moines man said a top Register executive asked him recently if he knew of anyone in town who’d be interested in buying the Register.

While circulation has been declining, the subscription prices of the newspapers have been rising. According to the latest audit report, the official price for home delivery of the daily and Sunday Registers now is $516 a year. That includes a must-buy of the digital edition. Five years ago, the sticker price was $273. It’s unclear how many people actually pay that top price, but the answer is probably “not many.”

The Des Moines newspaper — like all newspapers — has been emphasizing its digital editions, which cost $10 a month. In the latest quarter, digital circulation of the Sunday Register totaled 6,046 copies, though around 4,500 of those subscriptions were for the tablet edition, which contains only “select advertising.” For the daily Register, digital circulation in the period was 7,959, including around 5,700 subscribers to the tablet edition. Those numbers, which have been rising, are included in the overall circulation figures. …

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A couple of weeks ago, the Register ran a story saying the bowling coach at Ankeny High School — [aside: who knew high schools had bowling coaches?] — was leaving because of a contract dispute. Mike Mullins, who coaches both the boys’ and girls’ teams, couldn’t agree on money.

One problem with the story: It didn’t say what the money was. Herb Strentz was curious — about the money and the story. He asked the newspaper. Mullins and his boss didn’t want “to get into specifics,” he was told. So Strentz simply asked the Ankeny schools for the information. The response:

“Mr. Mullins received two bowling stipends last year, one for boys and one for girls at 14 percent of the generator base ($28,650). Added together, that was a 28 percent stipend, thus the combined stipends last year amount to $8,022. After a review of other metro school districts rate of pay for Bowling, most schools provide one stipend for boys and girls combined. This year his single stipend at 14 percent of the generator based is in the amount of $4,146.10. Mr. Mullins had 31 students within the program. For purposes of internal comparison the head coach for Baseball, Basketball, Softball and Football makes a stipend of 25 percent of the generator base.”

Thank heavens that is cleared up.

Next question: What’s a generator base?

Next question: What would we do without Herb Strentz? …

Nonfarm employment in Iowa in April totaled 1,550,700, according to the Legislative Services Agency. That’s up more than 55,000 since Terry Branstad became governor three-and-a-half years ago. At that time, he promised to create 200,000 jobs in five years. With 18 months to go, he still has 145,000 jobs to go. In case anyone is keeping track. …

Your tax dollars at work: Orascom Construction Industries is the Egyptian company that in 2012 got around $200 million in Iowa tax breaks to build a fertilizer plant in Lee County. Nassef Sawiris is the chief executive of the Cairo company. The other day, he paid a record $70 million for an apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York. He paid cash. CV

Comment: VEISHEA

Let’s see if we have this right:

There were riots at Iowa State’s annual Veishea weekend again this spring. President Steve Leath canceled the rest of this year’s celebration and named a 19-person task force to figure out the future of the troubled but traditional campus weekend.

The task force met again last Thursday.

According to the Ames Tribune, the task force, in a straw vote, voted 12-3 “in favor of having some sort of university-wide event in the future.” Then, in another 12-3 vote, it recommended the event not be called Veishea.

Well, that should solve it.

Juliet to Romeo:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet. CV

—     Michael Gartner

One Comment

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