Alabama’s Three Largest Newspapers to Stop Printing

From a Wall Street Journal story by Alexandra Bruell headlined “Alabama’s Three Largest Newspapers to Stop Printing Next Year”:

One of the nation’s biggest publishers has decided to stop printing Alabama’s three largest newspapers and make them digital-only, the latest in a long string of local paper closures across America.

Advance Publications, which owns 24 newspapers as well as the Condé Nast magazine-publishing empire, plans to announce it will end the print operations of the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and Mobile’s Press-Register in February.

“The print side of our business does not make economic sense in Alabama,” said Tom Bates, president of the Alabama division of Advance Local, the group that oversees Advance’s newspapers, in an interview.

The print readership of all three papers has been shrinking rapidly, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Their expected combined circulation of about 30,000 early next year is a fraction of the 260,000 the papers boasted just a decade ago, Mr. Bates said.

Other publishers have moved to transition local papers to digital news operations, including USA Today parent Gannett Co., which in May ended print operations for several Massachusetts newspapers, opting instead to focus on their digital news operations.

Since 2005, the U.S. has lost more than a fourth of its newspapers and is on track to lose a third by 2025, according to a report Northwestern University released in June this year.

The company has no plans to lay off journalists, Mr. Bates said, but it will shut down its Mobile-based printing operation and lay off 110 people, including 74 employees in print production, and 36 people focused on print sales, operations and circulation, he said.

All content will continue to be available on a single platform, AL.com, though the company will keep publishing individual e-editions for each paper that will still charge subscribers, said Mr. Bates. AL.com doesn’t have a paywall.

Steve Newhouse, co-president of Advance Publications, said the company was “investing precious journalistic resources where they reach the most people in Alabama rather than supporting the much smaller and declining print platform.”

The cost of printing a newspaper has increased in the past year. Lee Enterprises Inc., one of the largest local newspaper owners in the country, said during a recent earnings call that newsprint prices increased 30% in the company’s fiscal year. Lee is in the midst of an effort to reduce costs annually by $45 million.

Advance Local, which is profitable, doesn’t plan to stop producing printed newspapers in its other regions next year, said Caroline Harrison, CEO of Advance Local. She didn’t rule out the possibility in the future. The organization also owns newspapers in other areas including Oregon, New Jersey and New York.

“Where print continues to be profitable we’re all in,” she said. “We’re going to go where the audience tells us.”

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