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Record’s Debt

‘Record’ accrues $12k debt due to lagging revenues
The economic troubles that hit reached the Purple Bubble over a year ago did not spare The Williams Record, the College’s only independent newspaper, which reports a current financial deficit of approximately $12,000. Although the student-run publication generally closes the year with some debt, a sharp recent decline in revenue has dug the hole deeper. Record Business Manager Marcello Halitzer ’12 has outlined a plan of recovery largely based on an increased focus on national advertising.

Halitzer attributes the debt to a drop-off in advertising and subscribers over a period of several years. Subscriptions have seen the greatest loss, decreasing by 200- to 300-percent over the past two years. Typically, campus ads make up one third or more of the paper’s yearly revenue, and these and local ads have shrunk dramatically to next to nothing. National advertising is the only revenue that has risen over time and now makes up about half of the revenue for the past year….

Whole article here.

The new Record Website is set to debut in a week, according to a full page ad this week. The paper has been losing an average of $4500 each year since 2007. The paper would appreciate any and all donations, and is espeically in placement within the wills of wealthy & childless Ephs. (Or anyone, for that matter.)

More seriously, if you are interested in the goings on of Williams, please consider a subscription, which is $45 dollars a semester. You can get those via the website as well, or via mail to The Williams Record, Paresky, Williamstown 01267.

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#1 Comment By David On October 7, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

1) Suggestion: Offer “lifetime” subscriptions for $1,000 or so. I suspect that I am not the only Record subscriber who has trouble keeping track of whether or not he is subscribed for the current year and/or would like a way to avoid having to worry about this in the future.

Now, such a subscription is obviously a way to beggar future Record staff, but, given the debt, this is reasonable enough. Moreover, it is not clear how much longer the Record will exist on paper, so future revenue loss might not be so great.

2) Kudos to the Record for revealing their indebtedness now. But they really ought to provide an annual public account of their finances, just like the New York Times does.

3) “Subscriptions have seen the greatest loss, decreasing by 200- to 300-percent over the past two years.” Huh? Don’t Record editors understand statistics? Subscriptions can’t decrease by 200 percent.

4) The Record ought to get behind my Ephs Choose idea. That would be the easiest way of getting more money from alums.

#2 Comment By Andrew On October 7, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

Clearly the only solution is for the Record to file for Chapter 11 and get reorganized into four newspapers, each overseen by one of the Neighborhood Governance Boards and generously subsidized by the Office of Campus Life, which will then cut off the subsidies in three years’ time, leaving students wondering one year after that why having four newspapers is in any way better than having one.

=D

#3 Comment By David On October 7, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

Halitzer has diverted his salary for the year and runs a small business staff. Consulting services have been volunteered by Adrian Rodrigues ’10, who has worked closely with the paid staff of four.

Could someone provide more details on this? Does the Record have a paid staff? Why? How much are they paid? What do they do? (Seek ads? Delivery?) If this is just a few hundred dollars, then it isn’t a big issue. But if it is a few thousand dollars, then the solution is simple: stop paying the staff. Whatever it is that they do should be done by the editors. (I realize that this is a bother, but life is tough is the incredibly shrinking media business.) If you are someone that wants to be an Record editor but does not want to bother with these staff jobs, then tough. There is probably someone else who wants to be Record editor in your place.

Was it incompetence or embarrassment that caused the Record to write an article about its debt without once mentioning the details of its costs and revenues? It is impossible to draw any conclusions without these numbers.

#4 Comment By hwc On October 7, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

Was it incompetence or embarrassment that caused the Record to write an article about its debt without once mentioning the details of its costs and revenues?

That would have required writing about the banquets.

#5 Comment By aparent On October 7, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

The same paragraph David quoted in #3 starts off:

“Strategies for the future are focused almost wholly on increasing revenue, as the newspaper is running barebones operations. Printing has shrunk from 4000 to 3000 issues. While the editorial staff has traditionally never taken pay, the budget for an end of term banquet has been entirely cut.”

There is no end of term banquet.

#6 Comment By hwc On October 7, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

In effect, the College has been financing the Record. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not sure that it is even possible to publish a weekly newspaper at a small college without college funding. Ideally, you would like to see a more straightforward and transparent decision to do so with an planned budget rather than the backdoor approach of covering debt.

I know that you guys hate comparsions, but some years ago (late 90s I think), Swarthmore’s weekly paper was publishing on an infrequent schedule. The College decided that it was an important resource and funded the paper along with work study paychecks for several editorial positions. Since then, it has been reliably published once a week and even has strong competition in the form of a daily online publication.

I don’t think there is anything particularly troubling about the collapse of the Record. It was inevitable. Now, the College needs to figure it out and replace an outmoded financial model with something sustainable that reflects the paper’s new role as a key part of the college community’s online presence. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Google provides search engine and contextual adverstising placements to college newspapers across the country. The Record staff needs to take a look at what other schools are doing and put together a proposal to Campus Life (or whatever) to put the thing on sold footing.

[PS: in the interest of fairness, I’ve lambasted the Record for their website issues. The Swarthmore Phoenix site has crashed and burned twice in the last month, too. Looks like classic database crashes. The first month of the year always seems to be rocky as new people are feeding the content management system.]

#7 Comment By hwc On October 7, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

If the Record thinks there is a national advertising based model for sustainable operations, it might as well just shut down now and save the headaches. I cannot imagine that being a viable model.

I do think that student newspapers need to seriously consider whether the time has come to cease publication of a local print edition.

#8 Comment By kthomas On October 7, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

Note: the Record website would seem, to me, to have a narrow but obviously ideal target audience (let’s draw an income chart). Not being able to capitalize on this…

#9 Comment By Ronit On October 7, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

@David: Agreed. I can’t place a burn rate of $4500/year in context unless I know something about costs and revenues. I would guess that printing is the Record’s major cost – if they eliminate the print edition, they could probably survive.

On the paid staff issue, I am ambivalent. While I’d certainly like to think that volunteerism alone should be enough to run any student org on campus (and is, in most cases), if the paid staff are getting paid to bring in ads, develop the new website, and other difficult tasks, I could definitely understand that.

#10 Comment By Larry George On October 8, 2009 @ 5:45 am

They could probably increase their subscriptions somewhat (and help themselves somewhat) if they could market themselves to parents and incoming students. That could be done online if Admission and the Dean’s Office could be persuaded to cooperate.

Right now, “marketing” seems very passive on the subscription side: wait around and see if someone goes to the trouble of finding out how to subscribe and sends in the money. Unfortunately, few people will just happen to think of the paper. There doesn’t seem to be any effort to get renewals. I used to subscribe, but no one sent me a renewal email and I just forgot to renew.

What about running special editions and selling them (and subscriptions) at Homecoming and other special events where there are likely to be a lot of parents and/or alumni?

I don’t see anything wrong with the College subsidizing a weekly newspaper through student fees and possibly some work/study funds. Endowing the paper would be a worthy project for alumni, as well. If it gets (or seeks) these sorts of additional funding, the paper should make an effort to increase subscriptions and renewals and increase its ads, and should be careful to keep fat out of its budget (learn the lesson of the distain to which holding banquets while running a deficit exposed it on this site, for example).

#11 Comment By Diana On October 8, 2009 @ 10:54 am

Seriously, a decrease of 200 to 300 percent? That means that now the Record is paying the advertisers, at a rate of one to two times what the advertisers formerly paid to get in the paper? …

#12 Comment By Dick Swart On October 8, 2009 @ 11:23 am

Christopher Kimball, publisher and editor of ‘Cooks Illustrated’, a magazine with a subscriber-paid circulation model (no advertising) and a profitable pay-for-read web site, offers these thoughts in today’s NYT, following the death of ‘Gourmet’ magazine.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/08/opinion/08kimball.html?ref=opinion

“To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice.

“Google “broccoli casserole” and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise — the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.”

#13 Comment By David R ’06 On October 8, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

@Larry George:

Re: the passive marketing:

If you have the College willingly covering your annual deficit, what do you need to worry about? Seems to be a problem of lack of incentives here.

#14 Comment By Josh ’02 On October 8, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

@hwc

As of 1998-2002, The Record was a completely independent entity and received $0 from the school, actually turning quite a decent profit each year from local & national advertising as well as subscriptions (I was business manager for most of that time period). However at that time the full breadth of content in each issue was not available online, so there was still incentive to subscribe, which there is not now.

The majority of revenue was via advertising from national advertising agencies and from companies recruiting on campus. I believe a full page ad at the time commanded $1000 per issue.

#15 Comment By Parent ’12 On October 8, 2009 @ 10:03 pm

Last week’s paper currently loads quickly.

There’s a nifty “countdown” for the new website. I believe it’s an on-line version of an ad that sparked some discussion on WSO.

http://record.williams.edu/record/

http://wso.williams.edu/discuss/comments.php?DiscussionID=2079