We No Longer Read the Weeklies (by Jackson West)

“Small and midsize markets have more traction these days” said John Saltas, owner of The Salt Lake City Weekly. “They aren’t bound to strategies formed half a continent away. Nor are they as burdened with crippling debt. On that score, Village Voice Media is no different than MediaNews or any daily chain that bit off more debt than it needed when engulfing and devouring and consolidating. In the end, it made some short-term savings (repurposing movie reviews, for instance), but the long term loss was the loss of local credibility.”

From “Are Alternative Weeklies Toast?” by David Carr, one of the few cranky old Times-ers that I’ll actually read thanks to the relationship we share with sweet, sweet cocaethylene. Anyway, what both Rosie Gray in her original piece for Buzzfeed and Carr in his follow-on are missing amidst whether or not someone is a “Voice person” is that this is all entirely typical in the process of liquidating brand equity. Something that the people who have bankrolled Mike Lacey’s delusional consolidation streak do all the time.

To illustrate: The Village Voice, as a brand, has real value (or did). It is not easily quantified, and it is completely illiquid, but it’s there in the abstract. It’s the reason that New Times dumped their name for Village Voice Media after the acquisition. Now, how do you liquify the untapped value in a brand? By putting out a shittier product that people continue to buy (and intern for) because of the lingering quality association, briefly but unsustainably increasing marginal profits before trading in the business for scrap once public perception has caught up with reality and you have to start lowering the price until it’s just another shitty, low margin commodity business and it finally occurs to most people that their local alt weekly has become a somewhat sexier version of the Nickel Saver.

Carr, of course, blames the universe in the form of the “informational ecosystem” or whatever, which I have a feeling is considered common wisdom at 620 8th Avenue because to believe otherwise would require taking responsibility for the problem. And yet amidst all the denial and sentimentality, at least Gray senses that the business has its own problems beyond just the death of print more generally: “The staff assumed that Village Voice Media Executive Editor Mike Lacey and his team were interlopers bent on squeezing the last drop of juice out of the paper before leaving it to die.” Of course they are! Lacey’s bankers are probably desperate to extract as much value as possible as soon as possible ahead of the inevitable bankruptcy, which would be the only sound reason to give New Times the money to buy the Voice in the first place.

Bankers are total pigs! Then again, so was Norman Mailer. In the end, maybe fitting.

Via Brian Van. Photo by Flickr user Bosc d’Anjou.