NEWS Delivered at dawn

By: Joe Strupp Earlier deadlines mean many youth carriers lost
If it seems like newspapers are appearing on the doorsteps of America earlier than usual these days, don't be surprised.
In the latest move to stem the falling tide of circulation, many large and small newspapers are moving up delivery times so readers can get papers early enough to read before heading off to work.
Citing demands from readers who are commuting farther in the morning, getting more done before breakfast, and having less time in the morning to read a newspaper, circulation and marketing directors say they have to deliver papers earlier or face canceled subscriptions.
"There are thousands and thousands of people who are up and out a lot earlier," says Rolf Arend, strategic planning manager for The Boston Globe, which went from a 7 a.m. delivery deadline to 6 a.m. last year. "A lot of it has to do with people moving out farther from the city and having a longer commute to work."
The Globe is not alone.
According to a 1997 survey by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), 82% of morning newspapers had a target delivery time of 6:30 a.m. or earlier, with 44% providing a 6 a.m. delivery. Among those surveyed, 18% had initiated a change within the last two years.
A more recent NAA survey showed that 20% of newspaper executives blamed lost Sunday circulation on late delivery times, while 29% planned to implement an earlier delivery deadline within the next two years.
"Readership studies tell us that readers want the paper earlier and earlier," says Terry Thompson, circulation director of the San Jose Mercury News, which will switch from a 6:30 a.m. delivery to 5:30 a.m. in the fall.
The earlier deadlines have caused some conflict for newspapers, ranging from the impact on editorial deadlines to the elimination of youth carriers who cannot legally work before 6 a.m. in some states. For editors, earlier deadlines often mean leaving out late meeting coverage, west coast sports scores, or other night events.
Arend says the Globe implemented the earlier delivery by moving up the deadlines of editorial, production, and delivery by 20 minutes each. About 70% of the Globe's 470,000 readers receive the paper through home delivery, says Arend, who says that makes them the most important readers. The earlier delivery did not add additional costs to the production expenses, Arend says, but he says it required the phasing out of youth carriers.
At the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press, the targeted delivery went from 6 a.m. to 5 a.m. beginning last June, according to metro home delivery manager Paul Kutzik. He says 35% of the subscribers initially received the newspaper by 5 a.m. at the start, with 50% getting it by January 1999. He hopes to have the percentage up to 60% by the end of the summer.
Kutzik says the move did not affect youth carriers, who have not been used since 1989. He says that a 100% delivery rate for 5 a.m. would require a "huge price tag" of more employees and equipment but says it is being discussed.
Across the river from St. Paul, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has also experimented with an earlier delivery time, moving up its usual 6:30 a.m. deadline to 5:30 a.m. in targeted areas, according to distribution manager Paul Holland. "The commuting pattern is earlier and we are just taking a look at it in some areas," he says.
Detroit Newspapers, which handles circulation for The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, also is testing an earlier delivery deadline in some targeted areas, according to circulation director Dick Hartnett. He says the 6 a.m. delivery deadline has been pushed back to 5:30 a.m. in areas where the need is greatest.
In Erie, Pa., the Morning News switched from a 7 a.m. to 6 a.m. delivery deadline in 1998 after reader research showed subscribers wanted a 5 a.m. delivery. Glenn Caruso, suburban supervisor, says the key element was changing from placing newspapers in more than 300 drop boxes for carrier pick-up to four satellite locations, which can be reached earlier. Caruso says the change is already affecting the newspapers' 300 youth carriers, most of whom will be phased out if they cannot meet the 6 a.m. deadline.
The early delivery trend is responsible, in part, for the declining number of youth carrier jobs nationwide, according to observers. The National Newspaper Association reports that the number of youth carriers nationwide dropped from 373,269 in 1990 to 282,601 in 1992 to 206,136 in 1996, the last year for which statistics are available.
The Seattle Times, which recently announced a switch from afternoon to morning delivery sometime in the next two years, is expecting to lose most of its 1,100 youth carriers when the morning delivery begins because of a 5:30 a.m. delivery deadline. Newspaper executives also say they expect costs to increase by as much as 30% with adult carriers, but have yet to determine exact budgeting.
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