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DING DONG, the Wicked Witch is Dead

May 22, 2009--We received a reader comment yesterday that simply read, “DING DONG, The Wicked Witch is Dead.”  We immediately understood to what the reader was referring. 

For months now, The Berkeley Daily Planet has been trying everything to stay afloat financially.   We all know that newspapers have their challenges.  However, neither of the Berkeley Daily Planet’s competitors, the East Bay Express and the Berkeley Voice, have had any trouble gathering enough advertisers to make themselves self-sustaining and profitable.  Neither pleads poverty nor solicits donations. 

To see why, we measured and compared the advertising in the May 13, 2009 issue of the East Bay Express and the April 23, 2009 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet:

  East Bay Express  Daily Planet
Total Pages 96 28
Total Pages of advertising 56.25   5.79
Pages of Text 39.75 22.21
Percent advertising 58.5% 20.7%




(note:  we left out the Berkeley Daily Planet’s self-advertising, but included advertising we happen to know the Berkeley Daily Planet has given away for free, and we also left out an expensive insert in the East Bay Express.) 

The difference is stunning.  The East Bay Express has 10 times more pages of advertising.  Even adjusted for total page number of text pages (the Express has almost twice as many pages of text), The Berkeley Daily Planet has vastly less advertising. We also analyzed the June 2009 issue of East Bay Monthly. The results, in terms of percent of total pages covered by ads (18.9 pages of ads to 32 pages total), was identical to the East Bay Express, 59%.
Why are advertisers flocking to the East Bay Express and shunning the Daily Planet?  Two reasons, we believe.  First, The East Bay Express is a much better paper without being a purveyor of hate.  Second, the Berkeley Daily Planet’s core demographic, Berkeley’s aging radicals, is of only marginal interest to most would be advertisers.

The Daily Planet has tried everything in order to become solvent--everything, that is, but the obvious: REFORM. 

The Berkeley Daily Planet has tried to sell subscriptions.  Not many takers.  Pretending to be a church, they have been reduced to begging for love offerings.  Not a lot of takers there either.  They announced that they would become a formal non-profit so that folks could at least tax deduct these love offerings to the vastly wealthy Becky O’Malley.  But that didn’t pan out either.

Yesterday (May 21, 2009) O’Malley announced her new plan.  The Berkeley Daily Planet over the summer will pare back its print run (advertisers will love that) and try to charge $2.00 a copy.  She actually does not call this a charge, but a “donation,” maintaining the religious shtick.  O’Malley says that if only 5,000 people “donate” (i.e., pony up) each week the Berkeley Daily Planet can stay in business.  Are there 5,000 aging radicals in Berkeley?  Probably.  Are there 5,000 aging radicals in Berkeley who are willing to pay $2.00 a week for the Daily Planet.  We will see.

Although the Berkeley Daily Planet does appear to be in a death spiral, it is premature to announce its death as our reader has (and the one time we met Becky O’Malley she did not have a broomstick).  There may still be time for O’Malley to turn things around through a process of reform.   It can be a win-win if she does.  Berkleyans can have a fine and informative local newspaper that does not set the town's residents at each other’s throats, while local businesses can have a newspaper that they can proudly identify with and support with their ad spends.  However, O’Malley will have to see the light first.  We at DPWatchDog are hoping that she will.


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