Like In Jackson, Goliath Strikes In Iowa | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Like In Jackson, Goliath Strikes In Iowa

Reminiscient of The Clarion-Ledger's attempts to take channels of distribution away from free publications in Missisissippi, the Gannett Corp. has struck in Iowa. Here's what the alternative newsweekly, the Des Moines City View, has to say about our Jackson battle (which is far from over; stay tuned):

The most talked-about fight is the one between the Jackson Free Press and Gannett's The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. A few months ago, The Clarion-Ledger offered retailers a nine-slot outdoor box under the premise of cleaning up the "clutter" of free papers.

They also offered them 23 percent of the boxes' revenue (excluding cuts from its own newspapers). All the merchants had to do was sign one-year contracts with TDN, which would give The Clarion-Ledger exclusive control over the display and distribution of free publications, including the Jackson Free Press. But in order for competing newspapers to be distributed by TDN, they would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars, a fee most papers couldn't afford. In some cases, it would drive publishing costs up as much as 20 percent.

When The Clarion-Ledger's circulation manager approached Jackson Free Press Publisher Todd Stauffer about this "exciting new service," Stauffer launched a media campaign railing against the McLean, Va.-based company's "forced circulation."
"We're evicted unless we pay for the ‘right' to place ourselves in their racks - to distribute in places where we used to distribute simply with the permission of the manager or owner," Stauffer wrote in a column. "I understand the Mafia in New York City has a similar system."

Stauffer, along with all the other independent publishers in Jackson, refused Gannett's offer and formed the Mississippi Independent Publishers Alliance. Its members vowed not to enroll in TDN, leaving the Gannett daily newspaper without income from the boxes, therefore also affecting retailers who were promised a percentage of TDN's revenues.

"I like what they're doing in Jackson," says Karpel. "You have to fight back. They've kicked up a #### storm. If you shed light about what Gannett is doing, the people will get it."

According to a story published last month by The Independent Weekly in Lafayette, La., Stauffer received a letter in May from The Clarion-Ledger stating that his paper had one month to remove its racks from 167 locations. The Jackson Free Press' attorneys responded by saying Gannett's contracts with retailers were invalid since Gannett misleadingly used the Jackson Free Press' name in its marketing materials.

Previous Comments

ID
170861
Comment

How 'bout this section: Then E&P weighed in with an op-ed piece: "Like newspapers everywhere, these Gannett papers are busy spinning off new free niche papers - everything from auto and help-wanted books to their own versions of youth-oriented alternatives. ... These dailies are using their marketing muscle to sell retail outlets on the idea that they can clean up the 'clutter' of all these free papers with some tidy gang racks. ... They then present competing free papers with a Hobson's choice: Hand over distribution of your paper to us, or get out of the store. ... Gannett says this gang rack scheme is not a companywide initiative. But the way it's spreading around the chain, it looks at the very least like a best-practices swap meet on steroids. Corporate should bring it to a halt." Association of Alternative Newsweeklies Executive Director Richard Karpel says controlling distribution of a competing newspaper is a matter of antitrust. Antitrust laws were designed to combat business trusts, commonly known as cartels, and protect the core values of free enterprise. They were created to prohibit the use of power by big businesses to control the marketplace through tactics like predatory pricing and vendor lock-in. "This business model isn't unique," Karpel says. "Other companies do this stuff, including Distribu Tech and Auto Trader [two of the biggest distributors of free publications in the country]. The difference with Gannett is they're doing it to control what papers go on their racks. It's not enough that they own 95 percent of a market; they want 97 percent." Along those lines, Karpel says, Gannett's tactics also have free speech implications. "It's free speech in the sense of having as many voices as possible," he says. "Having said that, we're probably expecting too much if we're asking Gannett to be gubernators of our free speech rights. Gannett is owned by shareholders; they're worried about dividends, not free speech." But if you are, maybe you'll read a little further.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-08-03T15:21:38-06:00
ID
170862
Comment

Wow, this Iowa story sure is bringing up some familiar tactics, for all this crap not to be one big corporate scheme: Booting competitors from their racks, even stealing their racks, is also part of the business acumen employed by The Des Moines Register's circulation department. Last June, shortly after the launch of Juice, Cityview Publisher Shane Goodman received a call from Jim Jones of The Register's circulation department to inform him that he had "about eight or nine" Cityview racks and asked what to do with them. In a June 7, 2005, letter to Mary Stier, The Register's publisher, Goodman says he asked Jones under what authority he removed the racks, and Jones responded by saying that: 1) in some cases, the store owner or manager asked them to be removed; 2) in some cases, he and others suggested they be removed; and 3) in some cases, he and others simply took them out without anyone's permission. Goodman says Jones acknowledged that he was "clearly instructed" to no longer remove Cityview's racks, and that if a store owner or manager requested such action, he was to instruct them to contact Cityview's office. Jones agreed to return the racks, along with a list of the locations they were taken from. The racks were returned, but the list of locations was not provided. "Upon further review," Goodman continues in his letter to Stier, "I have found that more than 'eight or nine' of our racks have been removed. I need to be assured that our property will be returned to us immediately and that this practice will no longer continue. At the bare minimum, these practices can be construed as theft. To a larger degree, this can certainly appear to be a predatory effort to gain an unfair competitive advantage." [...] Toby Dayton, president and chief operating officer of JobDig, says his company has since reached an agreement with Juice in which JobDig hangs about 50 of its racks on Juice newsstands. Still, Dayton says, he hears stories about how JobDig racks have disappeared in this market without explanation. "With Gannett, you never know who's doing what," Dayton says. "We've had racks disappear and never knew what happened. We've had some instances where [retail] employees told us distributors for The Register threatened to pull the paper out of their stores if they continued to distribute JobDig. They haven't done it yet." Like most publishers, Dayton says he doesn't mind competition. He just wants to be able to distribute his product without unreasonable interference. "You've got to have a level playing field, and you can't allow one paper to establish a monopoly on the distribution side," he says. "Businesses need to understand that strong, lively publications are good for the community." Even if Juice isn't charging competitors to be on their racks yet, they've already muscled their way into the local distribution game and have shown signs of wanting to expand. Retailers, for example, are encouraged to remove competing racks and install Juice racks under the auspices of "clearing clutter." "I don't buy that angle," says Rod Kabel, publisher of ArtScene. "The people we have deliver the paper are really good, and they keep things nice. It's an excuse to get businesses concerned about clutter and a way to make small independent papers look bad."

Author
ladd
Date
2006-08-03T16:18:33-06:00
ID
170863
Comment

For the record, Lee Warmouth and Ron Gooding at The Clarion-Ledger will not return our calls or letters to inquire about our missing racks, and the inconsistent lists of spots they are providing us. Interesting that they are ignoring us, even as they are telling businesses that they are trying to get us to buy into the "gang rack scheme," as Editor & Publisher deliciously calls it. Some businesses say that The Clarion-Ledger is assuring them that we will all be in the boxes within weeks. Of course, that was weeks ago, and It. Was. Patently. False. I'd pay somebody to hand out my paper on the sidewalk before I would pay that corporation to distribute a single one of my newspapers. And we're not the only paper that feels that way. Folks, this is not over. And thank you for all the calls and messages that keep coming in about all of your hard grass-roots work. It is paying off. Thank you for standing up for local business.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-08-03T16:22:23-06:00
ID
170864
Comment

I'd almost suggesting filing a police report, but I've seen the massive success that accomplishes with JPD, at least. We'll have to do all the work.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-08-03T18:30:57-06:00
ID
170865
Comment

Certainly, they are taking our boxes from places where the business has sent certified letters cancelling the contract.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-08-03T19:57:04-06:00
ID
170866
Comment

At some point I hope the indy papers are able to slap a class action lawsuit against Gannett.

Author
pikersam
Date
2006-08-03T22:30:42-06:00
ID
170867
Comment

For the record, Lee Warmouth and Ron Gooding at The Clarion-Ledger will not return our calls or letters to inquire about our missing racks, and the inconsistent lists of spots they are providing us. That's because they're probably rusting in a nearby landfill. We've been hit by the journalistic Mafia.

Author
L.W.
Date
2006-08-03T22:38:31-06:00
ID
170868
Comment

This proves that if you become focused on a mission and don't give up your fight, the results will be positive and even if things don't pan out exactly as planned, we can feel good because we tried. These jerks need to get busy developing a god paper rather then trying to kill others who have the right to place their publications with the premission of the gate-keeper. There are so many places that the absence of the JFP is noticeable.

Author
justjess
Date
2006-08-04T10:08:50-06:00

Thanks to all our new JFP VIPs!

COVID-19 has closed down the main sources of the JFP's revenue -- concerts, festivals, fundraisers, restaurants and bars. If everyone reading this article gives $5 or more, we should be able to continue publishing through the crisis. Please pay what you can to keep us reporting and publishing.

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