CAUGHT MY EYE / CROSSED MY MIND: Is It Small Town Business Theft?
By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
It has been awhile since I last had the time to jot thoughts down in this column. Since my last blabbing, which was a four-part series concerning social media, we have completed the slower summer season at the newspaper (due to lighter school activities x 16 schools) and have jumped headfirst into our busy season again.
This year, our staff really never truly experienced the normal summer slowdown as we worked to expand coverage and completed the big Fayette 150th Tribute which we provided to readers at no cost. We hope everyone enjoyed the 88-page free addition on Fayette History a few weeks ago which assisted the village with their 150th birthday celebration weekend.
We also hope you have enjoyed the full-color addition to our print product and the expansion of local Williams County – Fulton County area news coverage. On average this year’s coverage is about 20% more than this same time period last year and easily the most in-depth coverage our newspaper has ever provided. This is due to the hard work of everyone at the newspaper and of course the support from the communities we serve along with our faithful advertisers.
Though coming into a new school year of news coverage a little exhausted from no real downtime over the summer, we look forward plowing ahead and hope to bring more nationally awarded (National Newspaper Association) coverage daily on our website and weekly in our traditional hometown news editions (print and E-Edition).
Heck, even this newspaper column received recent NNA Honorable Mention recognition which I thought was pretty neat since all I do is share from the heart and honestly most of our writers are a lot more gifted than I am (I have been out of day to day journalism/writing for a long time).
This column’s content has been on the forefront of my mind for years, frankly being reminded of the subject matter when I viewed certain actions taken by a handful of community members online. I’ll be completely transparent; I’ve nixed writing this column previously for the sake of not wanting to offend anyone. Offense is not the intention, but I think the time has come that I cannot restrain myself any longer on the matter as damage is being done. I guess I’ve officially become the grumpy old “get off my lawn” guy. But equally, when there is an injustice, whether intentional or not, I think it is time to address the issue head-on, though I question if the problem at hand will change much.
Before starting, I want to be perfectly clear; I may have been guilty in my life of committing similar offense(s) and if I have, I apologize. I fully acknowledge the actions I want to address below are easily done, often with little thought. I also would like to note that I personally believe most of those who commit the issue I’m about to dive into do so without thinking twice. When I have observed these actions, more times than not, I actually know the people. I do not believe they conduct these actions with ill intent; they simply are not thinking things through. This is one of the major problems with the internet – click click and you have pulled the trigger on an action without much thought. Ever make a snarky comment to someone on social media and regret it five minutes later (argument vs. good relationships – sometimes it is okay not to comment)?
So, what are you getting at, Forrest? Glad you asked…
Presenting a scenario: You want to buy a newspaper copy because your child is featured in a large article (insert the high-interest newspaper story of your choice). You go to the local newspaper vending machine near the Post Office and insert your coins. You open the door and see a stack of 75 newspapers. You have paid for one copy, but you could take more if you wanted to. You face a moral dilemma because you would like to share the article with your family and friends, thus taking extra copies seems tempting.
Do you? Most wouldn’t. If we asked 100 people over coffee at a local restaurant if they believed taking more than one copy was theft, I believe 100% would answer “Yes, of course”.
Most people would only take one copy. We have observed honesty in our newspaper business for over 20 years that I’ve published local news via selling newspapers throughout the area. We have never really had a major issue with retail theft of our physical newspapers at 70+ stores throughout Northwest Ohio. But I’m not desiring to address traditional shoplifting concerns of our physical print product this week.
Finally to the point! How is the above scenario different from taking full 100% screenshots of our entire online articles (same stories that appear in our print edition) that are copyright protected, and sharing them on social media because you want your friends list to have your single licensed product for free?
Subscribers and those purchasing weekly 7-day access have 100% full rights to our content and are welcome to utilize that access with those in their households. Subscribers, whether purchasing one week or three years, have paid for one subscription, which is $2 per week (28 cents per day), again good for your immediate household (family).
*Note for those not understanding what paywall website protection means: Subscribers access paywall-protected content by logging into our website with their private credentials to access 100% of our online news stories. Instead of having to wait for the traditional newspaper to arrive in the mail or the E-Edition in email, subscribers can log in daily to around 10-20 news stories a day making our newspaper more of a daily publication format. Example – last night’s football game will be on the website today, no need to wait half a week for the edition to arrive.
But what about those taking advantage of the system, giving our product away to the multitudes for free, sometimes not even making the effort to crop out our copyright warning on the material when doing so?
How does this action help our small business cover the costs of producing quality journalism?
Let’s say we need to sell several hundred copies to break even on the time put into publishing the feature article on your child (not to mention the other 40-60 pages of news content) – ya, this is a big number. How can we do so if you share our protected content for free and bypass our online paywall?
Does this really happen often Forrest (aka – grumpy guy)?
Glad you asked. I’ve noted this hundreds of times which built up frustration each instance, eventually leading me into writing this column. These actions raise the mindset:
-Would you take more than one ice cream cone from the local restaurant?
-Do you share your Netflix password with your entire hometown?
-Would you take more gas than you paid for at the pump?
-Would you buy a steak at the grocery store and sneak a few more into your purse?
For most of us, the answer is no.
Why should the local newspaper that has published area news and depended on local readership support since the 1870s be any different? Being one of the oldest businesses in Northwest Ohio do you think we would have survived the past 150+ years if every time the newspaper published a high-interest story, someone bought a single copy and then killed any other potential newspaper sales by giving the content away to the multitudes?
I realize we live in a different time because of the digital age but the business plan and concepts are the precisely same. We exist and survive due to local community support for a very minimal fee. While I cannot hold conversations with prior newspaper publishers from the 1870s, 1940s or even 1980s to discuss theft, I have to believe our content is now being stolen at a level never before experienced during the most difficult/trying time the newspaper industry history has ever faced (worldwide).
It is astonishing to see how some people openly brag about not spending $2 with a local business and thank those who are illegally sharing content to help them avoid paying. These same people use these community group pages to invite people to church functions, sign up for T-ball, etc. in one post then turn around and brag about stealing our content in the next posting.
The real irony is we are often thanked for our efforts in these social media posts where the illegally shared content was posted, sometimes in the same sentence! “Thank you goes out to The Village Reporter for the awesome article on (insert name or story title). Here is the coverage from their website (paywall-protected material for subscribers only) for those without a subscription.”
If you enjoyed a local buffet at an area restaurant, would you go online and tell everyone how much you enjoyed it and then tell your friend/family to come over for free food you illegally stole and are willing to provide, screwing the restaurant over?
Other people on some of our community social media pages get outright nasty about the concept of having to pay for news access in the same fashion as community members have over the past 150 years. In the back of my mind, I wonder how they would feel if someone questioned their value and worth when they brought their hard-earned paycheck home? I won’t go in this negative direction, my morning devotion tried to point me in more of a positive angle this a.m., not sure I’m fully being successful.
These are copied/pasted comments on one of the community social media pages after we published a major exclusive feature that took a massive amount of hours to provide recently:
-“Darn it, I wanted to read this. I guess I’ll have to wait. I don’t have a subscription yet.”
-“Anybody have a subscription that can give up the jist of what the article says?”
-“Not paying $2”
-“Go to my page I screen recorded it and you’ll just have to pause to read it.”
Wonder how they would feel if their financial well-being was jeopardized by those in their communities? Again, morning devotion, shut up Forrest, move on, really, don’t take this to an ugly place.
But before moving on, a story that I will shorten by 90%. We had a customer upset that our newspaper cost $2 when visiting our office around a year ago. We explained we are 4-6x thicker than the average community newspaper so if we are charging 50 cents more per copy, our per-page fee is minimal compared to other newspapers in the area. I do not think the concept that we charge 4-6 cents per newspaper page when traditional community newspapers charge 12-16 cents per page sank in. Attitude was given and they left our office, keep in mind, over a $2 purchase.
I figured I would not see this individual anytime soon. Well, that was until I crossed the street to get a cup of coffee at the gas station as it was a long work day and I was going into my double shift. The mentioned complainer was in line ahead of me and dropped nearly $30 on lottery tickets, cigarettes and king-sized candy bars. Guess our $2 fee with minimal profit margins via an average of 350 hours of local employment was the rip-off in their personal budget? I try to avoid being judgemental, but really? Perspective …
We live in a rural part of the country. Our advertisers and readers to support our product are limited compared to more highly densely populated portions of the country. Because our support options are limited, every newspaper sale matters. Without this support, we could not provide the quality news you have come to enjoy.
Let’s do a little math. Say we make 10 cents off a newspaper sale. Some weeks we are higher than this, some weeks we are well below including a few weeks ago with the Fayette 150th Tribute included where our per newspaper costs were nearly $1.50 above what we charged for each sold newspaper. Take that times (x) our total circulation.
Still think we are greedy business owners who do not deserve support? I do not know of another business that has as thin of a profit margin as our own. We go through the process of publishing local news every day / every week as we believe in our small communities and know if we disappear that at least 75% of the news and community event exposure we provide would be lost forever. Conduct an internet search on towns without a local newspaper (bad stuff) and see the negative impact it has within small rural towns. Many in our newspaper staff circle simply believe in “the call” and love what we do, thus dollars and cents are not always the deciding factor (do not get me wrong they have to factor in).
Experts in our line of work have suggested that we follow newspapers around the country and increasing our subscription / single copy rates, especially since we are on the lowest end of any newspaper in the three state area (per page). I’m not diving into this subject here and now, just know I have fought incredibly hard to avoid this while we have had three rate increases at the Post Office for mailing newspapers and our print costs have at times doubled from just a few years ago for the same edition printing on the same week.
Let’s say someone provides our news content online for free to one of our one-stoplight towns with a population of 1,200 people (size of West Unity, Pioneer, or Fayette). A major feature is published by our newspaper on a high school kid in that town. How many potential newspaper sales do you think we can make in a village of 1,200? If four people live in a home (address) we are down to 300 potential sales in that little one-stoplight town. When you place stolen content on this town’s Facebook group and 700 read it, we are going to sell very few newspapers, you literally killed our business sales potential. “I already read online, why would I need to buy it now?”
Maybe we go from selling 200 to 20 newspaper sales, again x 10 cents profit margin. Gee, that would mean our gifted writers whom you brush shoulders with in our communities who put 10 hours into the feature is worth so little? I think not, nor should those in our communities.
If I wanted to be a jerk, I’d throw in a comment here that one person recently complaining had a social media post about minimum wage and a needed higher living wage, then they complained in the next post about paying $2 to support our local family-owned small business. As one of the first sermons I ever heard after becoming a person of faith stated, “Stink’in Thinking” (27 years later that message title has stuck with me).
Do they expect the local gas station to give away free coffee too? Do you think they would be okay with their product/services given away?
Expect the dairy treat to give away free ice cream? Do you think they would be okay with their product/services given away?
Do you expect the village to provide free utilities or the downtown medical clinic to offer free healthcare? Do you think they would be okay with their product/services given away?
Maybe you think the hardware will give away grass seed or bank will offer interest-free loans? Do you think they would be okay with their product/services given away?
How can the local newspaper, supported for 150 years via newspaper sales suddenly expect to stay in the black because you can copy/paste our content breaking our copyright notices right on the screenshots you are sharing? Like a lot in life, just because you can conduct an activity, doesn’t always mean you should.
Our newspaper has been published since the 1870s because local residents buy it. We spend more than 350 hours each week publishing both in print and online. It’s not unreasonable to expect people to support a local business by paying just $2. Compared to the price of a candy bar, it’s a fair expectation. I actually have a ton of photos I’ve taken over the past six months on my phone on how little $2 pays for now with inflation, especially at checkout counters. In comparison, I feel we are well worth every penny. Okay, just one, a Snickers bar at a local box store was $2.12.
In the instance of quotes provided above from one of our communities, instead of complaining about paying $2 for a newspaper that contains a story that took weeks to develop (500 pages of records alone reviewed before all the interviews in that investigative piece), shouldn’t support of local business be considered to cover their costs? We employ local Northwest Ohio residents and are rooted in our communities, like most area businesses giving back to these same communities whenever possible.
Food for thought. So many complain about how their little villages lack local business, and then they turn around and openly brag about how they refuse to support them. “We need a hardware! I’m tired of driving to (area larger town) for hardware needs.” Then six months later after a hardware arrives, “Can you believe our local hardware charges $9.99 for a hammer, I can get it for $7.99 on Amazon.”
I’ve seen it before with other businesses. “I wish (fill in the town name) had a (fill in the business name / type)”. Somebody then pours their life savings into bringing the business into town, working without paying themselves for years trying to make their business succeed, and then the same people who wanted them to come to the area complain because that business’s prices might be 10-20% higher than a similar business an hour away in the big city or online. At the end of the day, those who stepped up to bring the local business into our rural neck of the woods may lose their life savings and often even worse.
In closing, if I sound a little “salty”, I might be. Knowing that a lot of my observations likely were people being ignorant of the harm they are doing eases my frustration a lot, the actions were not intentional or personal. Sometimes my eyes are opened to my ignorance. Sometimes I probably just walk around blindly in the midst of my ignorance, so I’m not pointing a judgemental finger at anyone. But now the concern has been addressed, I hope the issue dwindles since I am brining the problem to light.
Fortunately, since 2001 this is only the second time I have publically addressed this type of concern. I can recall the other instance when we first started providing the newspaper online via an E-Edition as digital became more popular (same edition as our print product). I’m guessing around 15 years ago now, we had a subscriber downloading our newspaper then attaching it to a mass email and sending it to their entire email address book list which was like 400-500 people.
This faculty member at one of our schools did this during school hours, from their school address, including my personal email when sending it out, and not even using a BCC or CC function to hide anything (the multitudes they sent our E-Edition to was fully displayed). It probably isn’t a great mystery how I reacted to discovering the activity from someone you should be able to trust and then having our product sent accidentally to my personal email, along with the multitudes who no longer needed to buy the paper in town due to this activity. Their excuse when confronted was they didn’t want their other faculty members to have to pay to read about their students in the town’s hometown newspaper. Let’s just say I sent an interesting response, to the entire email list, receiving a lot of apologies along the way.
I guess I need to be positive, only having to address this publically twice in a few decades is not that bad. I should also be thankful we are not experiencing what business owners on the West Coast are going through. Watch YouTube videos on the theft taking place due to the crazy refusal to prosecute shoplifters from what I consider insane political viewpoints. The last video I watched actually showed a grocery story with chains on the doors of the frozen section, protecting frozen pizzas that were already 3x more expensive than around here. I should feel blessed that I can just address my concern in this column and avoid chains, locks, and heavy hardware.
Please note the issues I’m sharing in this column concerning providing our paywall-protected content on social media should be not confused with sharing web links that point to our website and/or the preview tidbits we post. This action actually greatly assists our marketing and we appreciate and encourage it. Share away, there is a reason over 26,000 follow us online.
Thank you for listening and allowing me to vent a little, Also a big “thank you” goes out to the vast majority of our faithful readers who come to our office (or one of our area counter sale locations) to buy extra copies if they want to distribute newspapers to family and/ friends when there is a major feature on a loved one, or encourage others to buy a one-week online subscription for $2. That faithful and honest support is appreciated.
As mentioned this column was a long time coming. I believe in life you do need to know your value and worth. I believe our efforts at The Village Reporter are well worth $2.00 a week, we hope you do as well.
Step by step, plowing ahead …
I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail at 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.