Community news and information might be harder to get after this month.
Dillons and parent-company Kroger announced they are no longer carrying free publication racks in their stores.
The Wichita Eagle’s Carrie Rengers first brought this to my attention in a Sept. 26 report.
Rengers reported Dillons spokeswoman Sheila Lowrie provided an e-mailed statement, saying free publications aren’t driving customer engagement in stores because “[a]s publications have shifted to digital formats, fewer customers utilize these materials.”
However, Editor & Publisher Magazine’s own coverage of the change doesn’t support such a claim. According to Sean Wood and Bob Andelman on Sept. 23, the free publication racks Dillons and Kroger are getting rid of account for 25 percent of the circulation for alternative weeklies and other publications.
You can find the Editor & Publisher podcast discussing the situation here. A video version of the podcast is also provided above.
Locally in Wichita, the Splurge monthly magazine sees at least 12,000 copies of its 20,000 press run picked up from Dillons stores. Likewise, according to Rengers, the monthly newspaper Active Age has 1,600 copies out of its “55,000-person subscription based” picked up at Dillons, and the “Better Business Bureau distributes 80 percent of its 20,000 annual guides through Dillons.”
As the Memphis Business Journal highlighted, a free publication relies upon advertising dollars to make the product possible. This is done with the understand that the publication, and therefore the advertisements, will be seen by a certain number of people. When there are fewer places to distribute the publication, it strangles the business model and pushes them toward closure.
This isn’t just bad for the owners of the publications who are now scrambling to find alternative distribution points. It can negatively impact the community as well.
Writing for the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Berl Schwartz, editor and publisher of the Lansing City Pulse in Michigan, said, “the prices of daily papers has increased steeply while content has declined just as sharply. As a result, many readers have stopped buying print dailies. In market after market, free, alternative weeklies have filled a big hole in local news.”
If people can’t afford the daily newspaper, they turn to free publications to stay informed. An informed citizenry is vital to our democracy and ensures civic engagement. When individuals can’t get information they need, everyone suffers.
The removal of free publication racks from stores isn’t new. Walmart did it years ago, and as Laura Hazard Owen said, writing for Nieman Lab, it is happening in places like Starbucks and Aldi.
Maybe that’s a point in the Kroger column because they are following a national trend. However, it does not appear this new policy is being followed consistently. Owen points out free publications associated with the Lansing State Journal, owned by Gannett, are still available in Kroger stores in that market, suggesting the supermarket chain “does not want to disturb its arrangements with Gannett and other paid newspapers.”
Furthermore, as Rengers reported, a Kansas-based, free publication focusing on high school sports — Vype High School Sports Magazine — is still going to be allowed in the Dillons stores, just like it is in Walmart stores. There is no official reason provided for this, but it is worth noting that Dillons and Walmart are both advertisers in Vype.
Again, cutting off access to local, community news is a travesty, and it is disturbing this isn’t receiving more attention.
Local journalism must be preserved, and alternative weeklies that provide the valuable service of journalism at no cost to readers are vital for community health.
I urge you to reach out to Kroger and Dillons and voice your support for free publications to keep yourself and your neighbors informed. Also, reach out to your favorite alternative weekly and find out how you can help and still get a copy of the publication. Show these community-minded journalists that you care and support them.