Progression From Recession?

By: Dave Astor

Syndicates and news services, like other businesses, know this year won’t be easy. But they’re hoping the economy will start to improve later in 2002.

“We anticipate modest growth through the year, with a lot coming in the second half,” said Universal Press Syndicate President Robert Duffy.

Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe said current developments such as a more bullish stock market and America’s success in the Afghanistan war lead him to believe that the economy — and syndication sales — will get better this year.

United Media Vice President for Marketing and Sales Lisa Klem Wilson sees comics continuing to sell better than columns this year, partly because the former have a fixed place in newspapers.

Wilson, who will add the title of general manager at month’s end, did note that United’s Newspaper Enterprise Association package and the United-marketed Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) are weathering the recession better than some individually syndicated features because they offer a lot of content for the money.

SHNS Editor/General Manager Peter Copeland said material such as SHNS’ specialty pages on news, sports, and entertainment topics “help papers get high-quality material economically while freeing up staff to cover local news.”

The bad economy has led to newspaper staff downsizing, which can help national distributors because they sell papers material to replace the local content lost.

Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service President Al Leeds said news services not only offer a lot for the money but can benefit at a time when much is happening in a post-Sept. 11 world. Leeds reported that LAT-WP had a net gain of 35 clients last year as papers added international news content.

Trend Toward Spiritual Features?

And the tragic events of Sept. 11 may lead to several more features with a spiritual bent. For instance, United this March will launch Guy Gilchrist’s weekly “Your Angels Speak,” which combines an illustration with inspirational words.

But Newcombe said that, while he has some optimism about this year, various syndicates are clearly “hurting right now.” What are they doing about it?

Copley News Service Editorial Director Glenda Winders said Copley is trying not to launch new features until the economy improves. Instead, its focus is to better promote established features.

Some syndicates are also dropping unprofitable features or cutting other costs. For instance, Creators had a more modest holiday party and delayed employee raises from Jan. 1 to July 1 — though staffers will get two more days off before July 1 and extra 401(k) contributions.

But syndicates and news services don’t anticipate cutting much staff in 2002 because they already let people go in recent years or had lean staffs from the start. Of course, some layoffs or paring-by-attrition are possible if the economy stays bad.

Layoffs tangentially related to syndication are occurring at Andrews McMeel Publishing, a Universal sister firm whose books include comic collections. On Feb. 1, AMP is outsourcing distribution to Simon & Schuster, meaning about 110 employees are being let go. (Six will remain to coordinate with S&S.) The outsourcing is designed to not only save money but also give AMP a bigger distributor that can get books out faster. AMP will continue to handle editorial, marketing, and sales.

Finally, some distributors raised 2002 rates less than usual — only 2% in the cases of Copley and LAT-WP.


Et cetera …

The San Francisco Chronicle, as part of a reconfiguration of its “Datebook” section, cut eight comics that didn’t finish high in a poll of 18,000-plus readers. One casualty was “Zippy the Pinhead” by Bill Griffith, who asked fans to contact the Chronicle to urge it to reconsider. The King Features Syndicate cartoonist, whose strip began in San Francisco, told The Sun in Baltimore that the poll represents only about 4% of the Chronicle‘s readers and that older people are more likely to respond to comic surveys. …’s consumer-controlled “iSight” weather cameras drew about 1.1 million page views during the recent seven-foot snowstorm in Buffalo, N.Y. The local Webcams previously generated 300,000 page views a month. In other news, “ Desktop,” which gives PC users continuous weather updates, was launched. …

“Jim Borgman: My 25 Years at The Cincinnati Enquirer,” a hardcover book by and about the King editorial cartoonist, has been published.

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