We killed our paid subscription to The Oregonian a while back. Nowadays everything we've ever wanted out of the paper we can get for free on line, and without the recycling duty. It's not quite as convenient as the dead-tree version, but it doesn't take long to get through the editorial content of the O. That's money well saved.
To our surprise, however, the cancellation of our paper didn't stop the delivery on our front porch, yesterday mid-afternoon, of this item:
It's the latest edition of what used to be called Ultimate and now is Ultimate Northwest -- a slick, glossy mag produced by the O. We blogged about this publication almost exactly a year ago, shortly after the first issue came tucked in our Sunday paper -- back in the days when we were paying for that pile of pulp. It was weak then, and it's weak now. Journalism lite, laid out amidst the color advertisements in such a way that it's not possible to see where the ads end and the editorial content begins. Even if I open my codgerly mind as far as it will go, it's still truly painful to flip through it. Somebody named Jamie Francis has some nice photos in there, but the whole look and feel of the thing had me in such a hurry to put it down that I didn't get to appreciate them fully.
This product sure looks to us like a reaction by the waning O empire to Portland Monthly (which is also not my cup of tea). It doesn't take much imagination to put yourself in the conference room at the O the day the idea was first bounced around. "Hey, somebody else is making a living selling ads for the city's shallowest businesses and getting them in front of customers. How come we aren't getting those ads? We've got to get in on that." I don't think they could ever reasonably expect to make this venture even come close to breaking even, but I suspect they wouldn't mind cutting into the competition's revenue stream.
This is not the first time our prize-winning daily has made this kind of derivative move. First there was A&E -- a ripoff of the back half of Willamette Week. Then came InPortland -- funny thing, right after the Portland Tribune took hold. Now this.
All the way down to the circulation plan. Ultimate has a $4.99 cover price on it, but that's as fake as the budget for the eastside streetcar. They're literally throwing this baby up on people's porches on Sunday afternoons, people. Much the same way that Portland Monthly is apparently mailed for free to every doctor and lawyer in town -- perfect for the waiting room.
Once upon a time, a quick and dirty rule was that the price readers paid for their copies of a publication covered the expenses of the editorial department, and advertising income covered everything else. In the new math, it looks like advertising has to carry the whole enterprise, because any customer who pays retail for one of these mags is a fool. (But exactly the kind of fool that the advertisers want, of course -- "Luxury in the Pearl (Ignore That Falling Wall).")
Memo to the O, and indeed to the entire Newhouse newspaper chain: If you want to survive over the long haul, you are going to have to come up with a fresh product sometime soon. And this most decidedly is not it.