retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I often use my own career as an example for how and why people and companies have to adapt to changing circumstances, and even stay ahead of the pace of change.

I started out in 1978 as a daily newspaper reporter. (As did Michael Sansolo, by the way. For the same newspaper chain, 10 miles apart, as it happens, though we did not know each other at the time.) But as things progressed, I wrote for magazines, ran the editorial side of a prominent B2B video program (Retail Insights, which some of you may remember), and eventually found myself on the Internet. My standard joke is that before I'm done, I'll probably be delivering some iteration of MNB via hologram.

However it all plays out, I'm just glad I got out of the newspaper business. It didn't pay very well (my first-year salary was $6,800 … which was peanuts even in 1978), and technological shifts clearly have made many traditional newspapers irrelevant. (Not all. But many.)

But I was never so glad to be out of the newspaper business as I was yesterday, when I read on Slate that the Orange County Register actually was asking reporters and editors also to deliver the news, via Sunday paper routes - and paying them for their efforts via gift cards. (According to the Register, "A full route - which averages about 500-600 newspapers - earns $150 in Visa gift cards. A smaller route will earn a $100 Visa gift card. As a novice, sorting papers and delivering a route typically requires between 3-6 hours to complete, depending on the route and number of papers you are transporting…")

Now, to be fair, this doesn't appear to be part of some business master plan. In fact, the Register ran into contract problems with its usual distributor and needed to take stopgap measures until new arrangements could be made.

"The mood in the newsroom at the Register can’t be good," Slate writes. "The paper’s parent company - Freedom Communications - has fallen on hard economic times, resulting in layoffs and lawsuits. In September, the beleaguered company even sold the Register’s headquarters for $27 million…"

It is yet another Eye-Opening example of how and why we all need to be attuned to the economic, cultural, political and demographic shifts that can remake the business environments in which we all work. If we're not paying attention, we can find ourselves delivering newspapers in a tablet computer/smartphone world … which is not exactly a sustainable business path.
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