Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Why the Duluth News Tribune is canceling ‘Blondie’

Blondie and Dagwood, copyright King Features Syndicate.

Robin Washington, writing for the Duluth News Tribune, talks frankly about canceling the syndicated King Features' ‘Blondie’ comic strip, which the paper has carried since 1937.

Syndication is a perfectly fine business. What’s not fine is that the DNT is charged roughly twice as much for “Blondie” as for any other strip, and more than five times higher than some. The Sunday “Blondie” is billed at $62.01 per week. By contrast, “Hi and Lois” costs $32.22, and “Beetle Bailey” only $11.67. Both of those are also distributed by King. 
It may sound like I’m penny-pinching, but automatic, recurring charges add up; think of your cable bill. Yearly, the Sunday “Blondie” alone comes out to $3,224.52, which could easily be allocated to other needs for the paper. (New digital emergency radio frequencies require us to buy a new police scanner that goes for $500.

Robin asked the salesman why the paper pays so much.
His answer? The DNT is a “legacy” subscriber, going back years (“Blondie” first appeared in the Duluth Herald and Sunday News Tribune in May 1937), and therefore subject to yearly price increases. In essence, our benefit for being a longtime customer is we get to pay more.
The rest of the story, including both Robin and his assistant contacting King for over a year about this and not getting a response, is here.

Blondie will be replaced by Pearls Before Swine on Wednesday.

Hat tip to Jim Amash.


Brian Fies said...

Oh, those "Blondie" fans are going to LOVE "Pearls."

A rare look behind the syndication curtain....

RKirkman said...

It's disconcerting that what the Duluth paper is pushing behind their decision is, "...our benefit for being a longtime customer is we get to pay more." The part they leave out is that the base price of newspaper comics hasn't really changed since the '70s (actually, there was an article I read from the 30s, I believe, and I was surprised that the prices stated in it weren't all that different from today's).

Most newspapers are asked to pay increases over time for strips. The Duluth newspaper obviously has forgotten about inflation over the years.

Say, for instance, that Blondie started out at $12/week back in 1937 (I'm basing this on how much the paper is paying for Beetle Bailey). According to the CPI info, that $12/week, just allowing for inflation would need to be $191.33/week today to have the same buying power. Let's just say that it started at half the current rate. Factoring in inflation, the paper would have to pay $494.26/week today to give that cartoonist the same buying power. So in essence, they're getting a smoking deal for the strip based on the value of those dollars, and the cartoonist is getting less and less money for the work.

It also neglects to say whether during that period whether the paper has gotten rate DECREASES during that period. In the last several years, many newspapers have been demanding, and getting, rate decreases over threats of mass cancellation.

So instead of the newspaper's line of thinking, that they're being penalized for being longtime customers, they are actually benefitting greatly from the fact that Blondie proved itself to be reliably popular over the years, probably helping to keep subscribers to the paper happy at an ever-DECREASING value rate in terms of current dollars. The newspaper has gotten away with now paying the cartoonist effectively a fraction of what he used to make for being a consistently popular part of their newspaper.

The only way for a cartoonist to counter that decreasing buying power is for syndicates to sell their strip or panel into more papers—something made more difficult since there have been fewer and fewer newspapers every year for decades. Don't get me wrong, if you've got a popular strip, you can make a good living, but it doesn't come close to resembling the living cartoonists made 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago. Most newspaper cartoonists have to work two jobs or freelance on the side because the pay is so low.

So how many workers would be very happy about having their salaries cut every year for decades in exchange for their consistently good work? During the past recession, many have gotten a taste of that. For newspaper cartoonists, it's been a way of life for much longer.

I think this editor hasn't done much of a job of applying any journalistic skill to this story.