(The following article appeared in the Business Section of The Plainview Herald on April 7,2013)
Did You Pay for This Newspaper?
Sometimes, the Better Business Bureau has a reputation for being a Consumer Watchdog. That’s partly true, of course, and the BBB’s 100-year history has plenty of examples of the Bureau going to bat for the little guy. In truth, the BBB believes in ethical conduct on both sides of the fence, and we expect both businesses and consumers to play fair. Most times, they do. I believe that, in an even choice, most people go about their lives doing the right thing. Any of us might slip once in a while, but by and large, folks go through life looking to get by, do right, and stay happy, don't they?
I was surprised to hear from a friend at The Plainview Herald that there’s aserious problem with the vending machines around town. Our local newspaper is losing thousands ofdollars every week to customers who, once they’ve popped enough quarters intothe box to open the lid, take more than one paper. A lot more. From the figures mentioned to me, what I suspect is a few people arewalking off with hundreds of editions of the paper, especially the Sunday run.
A dozen possibilities come to mind to answer where the missing papers might go every week. Do we have a Coupon Fanatic among us? Thanks to a couple TV shows and obsessive-compulsive authors, the blueprint to saving– even making – money using excessive coupons and playing the rules against stores is out in the world. Other towns and their newspapers have run into trouble when a Coupon Clipper decides to corner the market on laundry detergent and swipes whole bundles of papers from street corners. I don’t see that happening in our little town, nor do I think that the insidious practice seen in bigger cities in which convenience store clerks, hoping to boost their own profits, rob vending machines and put the “free” editions on sale on their own counters, sometimes at a special cut rate.
It’s far more likely, to my mind, that some of us are paying for one paper and taking a couple extra. Maybe it’s easier for mom and dad to flip through their own copies at the same time. Maybe someone figures that, once the box is open, there’s minimal harm in taking an extra edition. Maybe there’s a constant paper drive going on somewhere. Maybe people figure that a spare copy here and there won't hurt anyone. That’s a lot of maybes.
It does matter how we might rationalize it, and it may seem like a tiny thing, but stealing is stealing, and it costs The Herald somewhere between $1,000 and $1,500 every week. That adds up to as much as $78,000 a year. What could our local paper do with that money? At a time when local newspapers compete with declining readership, higher production costs, the Internet, cable news and the constant threat of bigger media chains consolidating operations and expanding the coverage of banner publications, no local newspaper can afford to lose money from what should be a guaranteed cash stream.
At a time when Plainview is not at its economic best, why add to any risk that a local newspaper would be replaced by expanded coverage(if that) from Lubbock or Amarillo? Do you think for a minute that you’d see the same coverage of local stories from a Lubbock news desk? Do you think a Lubbock sports editor would include Plainview Little League scores or Wayland stories? One of the charms of living in a smaller community is its newspaper and the neighborly approach to the writing. Why risk that for an extra copy or two of the Sunday edition?
It’s Sunday. Chances are, you’ve already heard one sermon today, so it’s time for me to step down from the soap box. Let me leave you with the notion that what’s right is right, and I hope that everyone will live up to their better natures.
-- Bob Manista, Plainview BBB Office Manager