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Civic Skinny

Register’s circulation plummets. WHO drops Deace. Chiodo takes on Bisignano in south-side shoot-out.


Rick Green, The Des Moines Register’s new publisher, has his work cut out for him.

The latest audited figures show a continued steep drop in the circulation of the print editions of the Sunday and weekday newspapers. They also show a significant decline in online readership.

The report, for the six months ended Sept. 29, is the first to show the full impact of the Register’s decision to increase prices heavily and to force all print subscribers also to buy the web version of the newspaper. What’s more, the report indicates the papers put in another whopping price increase on Sept. 1, although many subscribers say they still are getting home delivery at deep discounts off the sticker price.

The highlights of the report, which was issued by the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group:

  • Total circulation of the Sunday Register — print and digital — fell 15 percent from a year earlier, to 161,184 from 189,538. The drop from two years ago is about 22 percent. The Sunday Register has lost nearly 50,000 print subscribers and newsstand buyers in the past two years while picking up just 3,000 or so digital-only subscribers.
  • Total circulation of the Monday-Friday Register — print and digital — fell almost 8 percent in the latest period, to 89,685 from 97,518 a year earlier. The two-year drop is nearly 15 percent — a loss of more than 20,000 print buyers offset just a bit by an increase of nearly 5,000 digital-only subscribers.
  • Digital subscriptions, which newspapers see as the future, are anemic and web readership is actually declining, according to the report. There are two kinds of digital-only subscriptions, the tablet and smartphone version, which has selected advertising from the print edition, and an edition that contains all advertising from the print version. The tablet version is more popular, by about 3 to 1. Combined, there were 5,367 digital subscribers to the Sunday paper in the latest period and 7,795 for the Monday-Friday papers.
  • Web viewership also has dropped sharply. In the latest period, an average of 1,694,749 individuals visited the website each month, making 10,599,703 page views. A year earlier, the comparable figures were 2,041,113 unique visitors and 14,543,135 page views.

The newspapers raised their prices and went to a forced print-digital buy on June 1, 2012, putting in a complicated pricing structure that seemed to be based on who you were and where you lived. Neighbors told of paying half as much or half again as much as the household next door. The audit reports say the paper raised its price at the time to $300.03 a year for home delivery seven days a week in the Des Moines area. That was an increase of a bit more than 34 percent from the $223.60 it had been charging, and it irritated many readers — especially older ones who don’t embrace the digital age — because they had to buy access to the web version of the paper even if they didn’t want it.

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Now, according to the latest report, that seven-day-a-week delivery — plus web access — was increased in the metro area to $516 a year on Sept. 1 of 2013. That’s an increase of 72 percent, making the two-year increase 130 percent. It’s now actually cheaper to buy the newspaper on a newsstand — $1 a day for 313 days and $2 each for 52 Sundays, totaling $417 — than it is to pay the new published price.

The latest increase, incidentally, was not reported in the Register news columns. Nor were the latest circulation figures.

The circulation picture is particularly bleak in what the newspaper refers to as its “designated market area,” which is basically Polk, Dallas, Warren and Story counties. In this market, Sunday print and digital circulation fell 13.8 percent and Monday-Friday print and digital circulation fell 11 percent. The report no longer lists census estimates, but central Iowa has been growing while the circulation has been declining; it’s a safe bet that fewer than two of five central Iowa households now subscribe to the Sunday Register, in print or online, while the number for the daily Register is very close to one out of five.

Using unaudited figures, however, the paper estimates it “reaches” nearly 60 percent of the people in the metro area. …

Meantime, the Register has cut the asking price for its former offices at 8th and Locust. The 297,475-square-foot building, which covers the half block on 8th between Locust and Grand, now is listed for $1,600,000, down from the $3 million to $4 million that the newspaper originally sought.

“We continue to have strong interest in the project from multiple parties,” says Todd Millang, senior vice president of CBRE/Hubbell Commercial. …

Steve Deace, the very conservative Des Moines sports-radio guy who morphed into a very conservative national political-radio guy, has lost his late-night slot on WHO.

“Our company, Clear Channel, was needing room for more of their own product in the evening, thus the adding of Sean Hannity for Steve,” says WHO’s Van Harden. But Harden happily denies a rumor that the Van and Bonnie show will be adding an extra hour in the morning. “I had not heard that one before, and since I already get up at 3:30 a.m. for four daily hours on the air, I’m pleased to say that one is false,” says Harden, who is the Van of Van and Bonnie.

Deace still can be heard from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on KTIA-FM, a Boone-based religion-oriented station at 99.3. …

Ned Chiodo’s announcement that he is running for the Iowa Senate sets up a bitter and divisive fight on the South Side if Tony Bisignano stays in the race. Both are former legislators. Both are well-known. Both have strong followings. And both are stubborn. Each thinks the other should pull out of the fight for the seat Jack Hatch is vacating, and each has rejected entreaties to do so. Chiodo’s backers think Bisignano would be ineligible to serve because he recently pleaded guilty of second-offense drunken driving, an aggravated misdemeanor. If you’re not eligible to vote, you’re not eligible to hold office, Chiodo supporters note. And the Iowa Supreme court has ruled that people convicted of aggravated misdemeanors are ineligible to vote until they have their voting rights restored, which used to be automatic but isn’t under Gov. Terry Branstad.

That supreme court ruling is nearly 100 years old, and who knows if it would still guide the supreme court in a new case. But even though second-offense OWI is an aggravated misdemeanor in Iowa, it’s classified as a felony under federal sentencing guidelines. The affidavit candidates must sign notes they are aware they are disqualified from holding office “if convicted of a felony or other infamous crime,” and Iowa Code defines an infamous crime as, among other things, “an offense classified as a felony under federal law.” So it’s a mess. A lawsuit by Chiodo would further rend the south-side community. But a primary victory by Bisignano could bring a lawsuit from his eventual Republican opponent. A November victory, without a lawsuit, could leave him as victor with the possibility he could never take office. Or maybe peace will somehow break out. The only certainty is this: The bitter fight is threatening to tear apart the south side political unity that John Mauro and others have held together over the past generation or two.

Then there’s this: Nathan Blake, an assistant attorney general, also is in the race. He lives in Sherman Hills, not on the south side, but he’d have a much better chance to win if both south-siders stay in and start screaming at each other. …

The University of Iowa has just released the contract of its new baseball coach, Rick Heller. It’s a six-year deal that runs until June of 2019, and it calls for a base salary of $142,500 a year. He could earn up to $80,000 more if he fields a national championship team of smart players and if he is named coach of the year by the Big Ten and the NCAA. He also can get extra money for working in sports camps and can make certain other outside deals. The contract doesn’t say he gets a car and club memberships, but it does say he gets benefits “normally available to University professional employees in the Athletics Department, including those related to his position as head coach.”

Heller’s predecessor, Jack Dahm, made about $103,000 a year. He was fired about a year ago.

Heller can leave without penalty after four years, but he’d have to pay the university $250,000 if he leaves in years one or two, $200,000 if he leaves in year three, and $150,000 if he leaves in year four. …

Last week, Cityview reported that Jim Hubbell was president of the Terrace Hill Foundation Society. He stepped down from that post a couple of months ago. Civic Skinny erred — not for the first time, and probably not for the last. CV

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