The Philadelphia Inquirer plans to unveil a new ?express? section in early February to attract busy readers, one of several strategies to boost readership that also include a sponsored TV guide and new Web sites for local car and real estate listings.
?We have a plan to turn this business around,? Brian Tierney, publisher of the Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, said in an interview with The Associated Press. ?I don?t want to say it?s going to be easy, and certainly we?re not going to solve the problems of the media industry … but we?re going to fix Philadelphia.?
Tierney said the papers? former owner, Knight Ridder Inc., cut staff – as he also did this month, reducing the number of employees by more than 100 in order to save $9 million – without having an effective plan to turn around operations. When the Tierney-led Philadelphia Media Holdings bought the papers last June, he saw that Knight Ridder had budgeted for an 8.5 percent circulation dip.
?They spent no money last year to try to grow,? Tierney said Tuesday.
Tierney, an advertising and public relations executive whose team crafted the James Earl Jones campaign for Verizon Communications Inc., said he has budgeted $20 million to spend on the papers this year, including $4 million in plant equipment upgrades, stepped-up advertising and marketing and greatly expanded home delivery of the Daily News. The company has also snagged the rights to ?Philadelphia,? a song sung by a local rap artist to be used in promoting its Web sites.
To appeal to busy readers who don?t have time to read the whole paper, the Inquirer will unveil a special section sponsored by Commerce Bank featuring news and editorial page summaries.
Two weeks ago, Comcast Corp. began sponsoring the TV guide, Tierney said. The listings now include programs found in Comcast?s video-on-demand service.
The company also introduced Web sites featuring local apartment, auto and real estate listings, such as Phillycars.com, PhillyForRent.com and PhillyForSale.com. Having separate Web sites allows users to access them directly rather than having to go through the main site, Philly.com.
A redesign of Philly.com will be unveiled in about four months, Tierney said.
The company is also changing the way the newspapers are delivered.
Since Jan. 1, the Inquirer and the Daily News have been delivered in the same trucks. Tierney said Teamsters drivers had previously driven separate trucks to the same location, but the union bent on the issue in the last negotiations.
The Daily News will now be delivered to eight counties in the Philadelphia area rather than just to the city and some surrounding towns.
Tierney said the company will increase the number of distribution points for its papers – including retail locations and newspaper boxes – from 8,000 to as many as 8,700 this year. In January, 200 newspaper boxes will be placed outside McDonald?s Corp. restaurants in eight counties.
Knight Ridder had 9,600 locations years ago, he said.
?Some areas were selling five or six copies and (Knight Ridder believed) it wasn?t worth it,? Tierney said.
The company plans to electronically track the sale of newspapers at corner boxes so it can put more copies in busy areas and find solutions for boxes with slow sales.
For now, circulation seems to have stabilized based on November and December figures, Tierney said. Print ad revenues have remained steady but online ad revenue is growing by double digits.
?Sometimes you have to change the paradigm,? Tierney said. ?I?m confident that if we market effectively, and test and learn, that we will continue to grow.?