Knight Ridder Seeking Big Discount From Syndicates?

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By: Dave Astor

Is Knight Ridder asking syndicates for a 20% reduction in what its newspapers pay for comics? That’s what a story in the July 19 issue of Newsweek magazine reports. The article also says Knight Ridder might cancel comics if the syndicates don’t comply.

Calls by E&P to Knight Ridder and the six syndicates with the most comics brought mixed results. The companies declined to discuss confidential negotiations, or said they were not aware of a 20%-reduction request, or couldn’t be reached for comment.

Knight Ridder Director of Corporate Communications Lee Ann Schlatter told E&P: “We do work hard to get the best rates that we can for our newspapers, but any details of negotiations are confidential.”

United Media Vice President/General Manager Lisa Klem Wilson said United is in discussions with Knight Ridder, but she too said the details are confidential. “We’re willing to work in creative ways to save newspapers money, but we will not reduce rates on existing features,” she added. “We represent people producing intellectual content. I don’t see the justification for passing along a huge reduction in their pay.” Like other syndicates, United has a roster of creators that includes a few superstars making a lot of money and many others earning a more modest amount from syndication.

Wilson also noted that what syndicates charge for many features has barely risen anyway during the past two decades.

“We’re all under pressure,” she said. “I work for a public company, too [E.W. Scripps]. But we’re not asking our vendors for a 20% reduction in rates.”

Wilson reported that Knight Ridder has not canceled any United features yet. Such an action would be “shortsighted,” said Wilson, because comics have high readership — including many younger people.

Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe agreed, noting that cutting features with a large following “doesn’t strike me as a sensible way to build readership.” So even if features are canceled in Knight Ridder papers, he doesn’t see other newspaper chains following suit.

Did Knight Ridder ask Creators to decrease rates 20%? “Not that I know of,” replied Newcombe, who did mention that many newspapers are “negotiating very aggressively to keep costs down.”

Washington Post Writers Group Sales Manager/North America Karisue Wyson said Knight Ridder hasn’t asked WPWG for a 20% price drop. She did note that Knight Ridder, like other newspaper chains, has inquired about discounts for group feature buys.

Universal Press Syndicate Vice President, Sales John Vivona said in a statement that contract conversations are confidential. He added: “We certainly don’t feel like a vendor supplying a bulk commodity, but a partner providing unique talent toward a common goal.”

Executives at Tribune Media Services — which markets Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services — and King Features Syndicate could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this year, at least two syndicates confirmed that the Knight Ridder-owned Philadelphia Inquirer asked them to provide features at no cost for a specific period of time.

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