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Why Newspapers Will Thrive
Many pundits have predicted the death of newspapers as readers switch to online content. Yet, in May 2012, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced the purchase of 63 newspapers from Media General Inc. for $142 million. That was followed in June 2012 by Berkshire's purchases of two Texas newspapers. Clearly Mr. Buffett--widely considered the world’s greatest investor--believes in the future of newspapers. Is Mr. Buffett making a mistake, or will his investment prove to be shrewd?
Mr. Buffett will win this debate for a powerful reason. Hometown newspapers will thrive because they are, simply, incredible bargains. They provide far more value to their subscribers than they cost. This is the case for these 14 reasons:
1. Low Cost
The subscription for my hometown newspaper is $182.00 for 52 weeks. That’s only $3.50 per week, or 50 cents per day. For that, the newspaper is delivered to my front door by 7:00 am every day. I’d love to see my plumber charge only 50 cents for house-calls. What’s amazing is that my 50 cents pays the salary of the reporters and photographers covering stories across town, on the other side of the country, and across oceans. It also pays for the editors who shape the stories, the printers who run the presses, and the truck drivers who transport the papers, and even the local paperboy. Somehow the 50 cents even covers the newsprint costs!
Coupons are the most direct financial benefit of hometown newspapers. My Sunday newspaper typically includes several coupon circulars such as Red Plum and SmartSource, plus the Proctor & Gamble circular once per month. It also includes coupons from local and national retailers and restaurants. I easily recoup the $3.50 weekly newspaper subscription cost by redeeming just four or five grocery store coupons, or even fewer when my grocery store doubles coupons. I frequently save much more than the subscription cost of my newspaper by using just one coupon per week for a restaurant, clothing retailer, or home improvement store. For many subscribers like myself, the coupons save more money than the cost of the paper. Indeed, many extreme couponers pay for multiple subscriptions just to get more coupons.
Hometown newspapers also provide a host of information about discounts. I often find advertisements for half-price dinners, $2 discounts for people buying advance fair tickets, or 10% discounts at the barbershop. While websites like Groupon are also sources of discount information, they are much more targeted to particular sellers, and have much less selection. I also find myself annoyed at the daily emails announcing half-price sales for services I never use.
4. Guides to Free & Low-Cost Entertainment
Hometown newspapers carry guides to free and low-cost entertainment. For example, I get seasonal listings for art festivals, music concerts, fairs, beaches, hikes, runs, sporting events, state and county parks, fireworks, parades and many other events which are free or low cost. Again, while there are Internet sites which carry event listings, there are few sources which are nearly as comprehensive as those from my newspaper.
5. TV Listings
Daily newspapers list that day’s TV shows, while the Sunday newspaper has a pull-out insert with the entire week’s TV programs. This insert is a substitute for a subscription to TV Guide. It may not be as colorful, but it gives the same information and it’s essentially free.
6. Crosswords and Other Puzzles
Most newspapers carry a variety of crossword puzzles, Sudokus, word searches and other puzzles. These puzzles are suitable for various ages and ability levels. In many newspapers, the puzzles get more difficult as the week goes on. I especially enjoy the Saturday and Sunday crossword puzzles, which are as good as any I’ve found in a puzzle book.
7. "For Sale" Classified Ads
Many newspapers contain special classified ads for low-cost products, with prices capped at $50, $75 or $100. These products are often great bargains as the sellers strive to keep their prices under the cap, and they are not available online or anywhere else.
8. Window Cleaners
Newspapers are great for cleaning windows. The newsprint and ink function as a very fine abrasive, with the end result being a clean window. The price is perfect: free!
9. Packaging Material
With the rapid growth of online shopping, more people routinely ship products. Scrunched up newspapers make effective, eco-friendly, and free packaging material.
10. Floor Covering for Painting
Newspapers can be used as free floor covering for painting. While plastic sheets can be used, they blow around and create openings for paint to splatter the floor.
11. Doggie Bags
The dog walkers among us know that it’s imperative to always carry along a plastic bag to help keep the neighborhood tidy and the neighbors happy to see me. I waste no money buying these doggie bags since I use the plastic bags that protect my newspapers from rain.
Rolled up newspapers make great kindling, both inside and the outside fire pit. They may not be as exciting as a flammable fluid, but this is an area where excitement is over-rated.
13. Papier Mache and Other Art Projects
Newspapers are prime ingredients for papier mache and other art projects. Kids make hats, boats and many other creative objects from old newspapers.
Newspapers can be used to create special mementos of important days. Their front pages can be framed as mementos of your child’s birthday, or the day you got married. They can be used to frame headlines commemorating historical events such as the day the Red Sox won the World Series, or the day the Titanic sank, or the day man stepped on the moon.
The most wonderful part of a newspaper subscription occurs on a sunny Sunday morning, sitting at the kitchen table with a thick newspaper and a cup of coffee. That experience alone will make Mr. Buffett’s faith in the survival of newspapers a reality. But newspapers will also thrive because they are one of the most incredible bargains. They offer financial benefits far exceeding their costs, they provide entertainment, and their very materials can be used as free ingredients for a variety of projects.