Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Poll says internet has passed newspapers as news source

The latest poll from Pew Research Center says that more people cite the internet as their prime source of news than newspapers.

As the graph shows, the net had a big jump this year, possibly explained by the poll being taken shortly after the election, during which political junkies (myself included) checked websites regularly for the latest news, rumors, and polls. It's possible, then, that the numbers are inflated, but the long-term pattern is nonetheless clear -- papers are down fifteen points from their high and TV down twelve points, while the net is up 27 points.

This is not necessarily all bad news for the papers -- many of the most popular news websites are run by the newspapers themselves, but for it to be good news the publishers are going to have to figure out a way to turn those online readers into advertising dollars, something they've had trouble doing thus far.

Who pays for all the markdowns?

The practice of guaranteed margins, common in the department store channel, is being questioned by suppliers who are staggering under the weight of all those huge markdowns we're seeing.
Clothing makers, balking at the deep holiday discounts offered by retailers such as Macy’s Inc., may force department stores to eat more of the markdowns.

Liz Claiborne Inc., HMS Productions Inc. and a raft of apparel companies plan to push back at the retailers who have slashed some prices by 70 percent amid what’s shaping up as the worst holiday shopping season in four decades.
Some analysts are saying that stores used to guarantees of 40% may have to settle for 35%, and that mid-range stores like Penney may see their guarantees cut from 35% to 30%. The cuts could save suppliers a billion or more. There may be some interesting conversations at the NRF meeting next month.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Independent grocers ask for R-P enforcement

The National Grocers Association sent President-elect Obama a wish list that includes a request that he push the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to enforce antitrust laws against their bigger rivals:
Consistent and balanced enforcement of our nation’s antitrust laws, including the Robinson-Patman Act, is especially important to ensure a level competitive playing field for entrepreneurial businesses. N.G.A. encourages you to appoint a Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust that will enforce the law in a consistent and balanced manner. A level playing field provides the appropriate marketplace environment where diversity thrives and consumers are well served with an abundance of choices.
I have mixed feelings on R-P enforcement: I agree with the NGA that there are serious abuses in trade promo and other channel practices, but I have doubts about R-P itself, which surely ranks among the most poorly-written major pieces of legislation ever (in the famous Fred Meyer decision, the Supreme Court wrote, "Conceding that the Robinson-Patman amendments by no means represent an exemplar of legislative clarity ..."). It's tough to comply with a law that no one quite understands.

An overhaul of R-P would be the ideal solution, but I have a hard time foreseeing that happening.

TNS predicts 2% retail growth in 2009

The forecast is not what any of us would ordinarily hope for, but right now anything with a plus sign in front of it is looking pretty good.

For 2009, sales growth for the year (excluding automobiles and gasoline) is forecast to approach 2% growth compared with the 2.3% average growth for 2008 through November, based on data reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

TNS Retail Forward anticipates a rebound to occur in 2010 and gain momentum through 2013, when annual increases in sales will again approach the 5% average growth rate of the past 10 years.
I wonder if it's realistic to expect to regain 5% annual growth in retail sales -- GDP growth and income growth were both below 5% over the recent past, so is such a figure sustainable for retail sales over the long haul? I'm not an economist, but it seems like perhaps we should recalibrate our expectations -- both as consumers and as marketers.

The end of the VHS era

There's no real trade promotion message here, but I was fascinated by this story on the last distributor of VHS tapes -- the guy responsible for filling those bargain bins at the dollar stores -- announcing that he's giving up.
"It's dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt," said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. "I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I'm done. Anything left in warehouse we'll just give away or throw away."
The real interest in the article is simply reading about somebody who sees opportunity where the rest of us see a product that is far enough past the end of its lifecycle that it has started smelling a bit. He unabashedly describes himself as a bottom-feeder, but his bottom-feeding has done quite well for him: "I'm not sure a lot of people are going to miss VHS," he said, "but it's been good to us." And he's looking forward to reprising his success as DVDs are replaced by Blu-Ray.

Walmart leaves PRISM waiting at the altar

Walmart has announced that it will not be a part of PRISM when Nielsen's experimental in-store marketing measurement tool goes live next year. Walmart was one of the original backers of the initiative, so their departure is a blow, but it is not really all that surprising, nor does it fatally wound PRISM.

Combined with Walmart's absence from syndicated data, this may seem to indicate a chronic inability to commit, but a more likely explanation is simply that Walmart feels that their competitors may gain more from having Walmart data in the mix than Walmart gains from being in the consortium -- the same reason they withhold their POS from the syndicators. Having been part of the pilot, Walmart now knows enough about how the new tool works to do the same thing on their own and make it part of RetailLink.

It makes perfect sense, though it is no doubt a disappointment to Nielsen, and will further complicate the lives of marketers who were looking forward to the new tool.

I was initially dismissive of PRISM, because I felt sales data was a better measure of the effectiveness of in-store marketing, but I came around as I appreciated better that PRISM's purpose is different (to measure brand-building) and should be seen as supplemental and complementary to sales measures, rather than as an attempt to supplant those measures.

While Walmart's defection means that PRISM measurements will be less comprehensive, that does not mean they will be without value. We will continue to look forward to PRISM's rollout and hope that it fulfills marketers' hopes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Walmart and Carrefour expanding in South America

Walmart announced plans to buy one of Chile's largest grocery chains:
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said from the company's headquarters at Bentonville, Ark., that D&S operates 185 stores in Chile and is a "significant" player in the country's grocery-retail sector.
Walmart is currently operating in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico.

Carrefour, meanwhile, is planning to expand in Brazil, with expectations that Brazil will become their second-biggest market (it's currently third, behind France and Spain).
Carrefour SA, Europe’s biggest retailer, plans to open a many as four new stores in Brazil in the first quarter even as growth slows in Latin America’s biggest economy.

Carrefour sees growth opportunities in the southern part of Brazil and is interested in buying other companies, said Pedro Daniel Magalhaes, chief financial officer of Grupo Carrefour Brasil, in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Sao Paulo.

Borders drops "sale or return" ...

... for one vendor, at least.

Standard practice in the book trade is to allow 100% return on unsold books:

Industry practice dating from the 1930s allowed retailers to return unsold titles to publishers for full credit and without incurring shipping costs, the newspaper said.

These titles, about 30 percent to 40 percent of all titles according to industry figures, eventually get sent back to the stores for heavily discounted sale, the paper added.

The deal with HarperStudio calls for increased discounts upfront to replace the return privileges. One wonders, if this practice spreads, if we will soon be seeing the introduction of markdown allowances and TPRs.

In any case, the practice of returning books and then having them shipped back for sale at reduced price seems inefficient, a point acknowledged by HarperStudio:
The paper quoted HarperStudio's president and publisher Robert Miller saying that the economic downturn has made publishers and booksellers more open to experimenting with models that might decrease waste and increase profit.

Staples expanding in-store marketing

Staples has signed a deal with News America Marketing to put a greater focus on in-store marketing:
Through the partnership, announced this month, News America will design coupon machines, shelf messaging, floor ads and sampling programs in more than 1,500 Staples stores nationwide. The in-store media will launch next month.
The deal is an expansion into a new market for News America, which has been concentrated almost entirely on the food and drug channels. News America notes, though, that they have working relationships with many of Staples' suppliers.

This is another example of the growing intrusion of CPG marketing practices into other channels. In early 2007, I posted an item titled HP goes CPG that involved, by coincidence, Staples:
Hewlett-Packard is employing tactics from the world of consumer packaged goods, demonstrating once again something I (and others) have been noting for a while – the growing convergence of the two wings of trade promotion in consumer products, CPG and consumer durables.

BusinessWeek reported recently that HP is making payments to retailers to get them to stop selling private label cartridges for HP printers:

Those executives say the company has approached chain stores that sell store-brand cartridges compatible with its printers and offered them incentives if they end the practice.

Staples is offered as an example. The article goes on to raise questions about the legality of the practice, which is of interest, of course. But I was more struck by how HP, an iconic company in the high-tech arena, is using a marketing tactic more identified with the selling of canned peas.
This is not necessarily because CPG has the better set of tactics (a strong case could be made for the contrary), but because the nature of trade promo has always been driven by the nature of the channel, and the durables channels today are becoming more similar to the mass, grocery and drug channels. As retail concentration increases, therefore, we will likely see more coupon dispensers and floor ads in unexpected places.

On a somewhat related note, Brandweek had an article entitled "OgilvyAction's Roth Explains Shopper Marketing", which I read eagerly in the hopes of having Shopper Marketing explained to me (heck, I'd settle for having it clearly defined). I was, alas, disappointed, although some good examples were cited. Interesting, though, how much interest ad agencies are showing now in in-store marketing. Do you think it might be related to declining revenues from traditional media?

Newspapers trying just about everything

In Detroit, the two newspapers are eliminating home delivery most of the week (delivery on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday only). The other four days, the papers will be sold only on the street and will be cut to 32-page single-section editions. Good luck, but it's hard to see how both papers survive.

The Seattle Times is asking its employees to take a week off -- unpaid. This comes after three rounds of layoffs this year that reduced staff by 22%. Again, it seems that the day of the two-newspaper town (with the exception of New York and maybe Chicago) may be over.

But the award for most-innovative approach goes to the New Britain Herald and Bristol Post in Connecticut, where they are trying to arrange for a taxpayer-funded bailout for the papers.

Update, Tuesday: A reader says that the Connecticut papers are not asking for a bailout, and provides this link to information on the subject. It's good to have multiple views on a subject, and I'm grateful for the information. The question might be what constitutes a "bailout" -- legislators are asking the state Department of Economic and Community Development for assistance for the papers, including low-interest loans or other incentives.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Newsweek wants to be The Economist when it grows up

Once again, a recession bites most fiercely on companies and categories that were struggling in good times (e.g., department stores and newspapers). Another example: weekly news magazines. Newsweek's ad pages are down 17% this year, and Time is down 19%. US News has dropped out, announcing first that it would become a bi-weekly, then amending that to monthly.

But the category has been struggling with irrelevance for a long time:
Just how challenged the newsweeklies have become can be seen by comparing current ad page counts to those of eight years ago.

January through September 2000, Newsweek reported 1,613 ad pages, with revenues of $294,259,907, based on ratecard before discounts. Time reported 2,032 ad pages and revenues of $449,397,814. For the first nine months of this year, Newsweek reported 1,035 ad pages and revenues of $237,578,612. Time reported 1,179.46 pages at $313,886,163.
In the past couple decades, the newsweeklies have mostly appeared to respond to the changing market by dumbing themselves down to the point that they're pretty much indistinguishable from People. (I admit I'm basing this on limited observation -- it's been decades since I read any of those mags anywhere other than doctor's offices). This left a niche that has been filled by The Economist. And now it seems that Newsweek wants to crowd into the same niche:
According to these reports, Newsweek plans to shed news coverage in favor of analysis and opinion journalism as practiced by The Economist and other so-called thought-leader titles, relying on big-name journalists rather than the teams of reporters and editors who now put out the magazine each week. Shedding a good share of that staff would mean huge cost savings. Already this year, Newsweek has shed more than 100 positions.
Good luck to them, of course, but Newsweek trying to reposition itself as intelligent reading seems to me kind of like Lindsay Lohan trying to rebrand herself as Grace Kelly -- it's a worthy effort, but unlikely to succeed.

P&G wants to renegotiate media contracts

Their sales are flat or down, so Procter & Gamble is looking for a cost savings by renegotiating some of its media contracts.

The media is in no position to fight back, as P&G well knows:
"This media environment is a big 'O' opportunity for us, because we're the biggest advertiser in a lot of these countries, and we just go in and tear up the contract," Mr. Lafley said. "Whole industries have walked away [from media advertising]. So everything is getting renegotiated, and we want to be ahead of the curve."
The article notes that P&G's media spending has decreased by double-digit numbers the past two quarters, but I wonder if much of that decline is offset by in-store spending.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ad agencies expecting big cuts soon

Madison Avenue is getting ready for some major staff cuts in the new year, with the prediction that total ad spending in 2009 will be down 5.7%.

After trimming jobs throughout the year, Madison Avenue is bracing for even bigger layoffs in 2009.

Ad executives and recruiters expect agencies, which have been cutting in dribs and drabs, to hand out a flurry of pink slips early next year as the ad downturn worsens.

The talk in industry circles is that the major agency holding companies - Interpublic, Omnicom and WPP - are planning deeper cuts to ring in the New Year.

"Close to 50 percent of agencies are owned by holding companies," said Joanne Davis, a longtime ad-industry consultant. "The public markets are putting pressure on these companies to perform."
Some of the ad agencies have recently created divisions to deal with shopper marketing and other in-store promotion. Perhaps they will finally be motivated to become seriously involved in the segment where most of the marketing budget is spent.

Woolworths closing down

Efforts to find a buyer for what was once Britain's largest retailer have been unsuccessful, so the going out of business sales are expected to begin as soon as tomorrow.

In what looks like the beginning of the end for the retailer, its administrator Deloitte has said that some shops could close for good by the end of the year.

Deloitte is also due to consult with Woolworths' 30,000 staff over the possibility of redundancies.

Talks over the sale of the leaseholds of individual stores are continuing. It is thought that Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco, the Co-op and discount chain Poundland are still interested in picking up some of the retailer's prime sites.

Retailers cutting marketing (or maybe not)

Lesson #1000 (or so) on why you shouldn't believe media headlines. Ad Age has an article with this header:
Retailers Shrink Ad Spending During Holiday Sales Period
But the actual story indicates that a survey says that 32% of retailers are cutting their marketing budgets, which would seem to indicate that more than 2/3 are not cutting.
BDO Seidman said that of the 100 chief marketing officers surveyed, 32% report having a smaller holiday advertising budget than last year. Forty-three percent of retailers said their budgets are flat, while only 25% said their budget would increase for the holiday season.
Hmmm ... that reads a little differently from the headline, doesn't it?

How to spin a story as negatively as possible is also demonstrated in this paragraph:
But CMOs are not only pessimistic about the holidays, they are uncertain about the economy's ability to recover. The vast majority, or 65%, of CMOs surveyed said they do not expect to see a meaningful turnaround in the economy until the third quarter of 2009 or later. Twenty-nine percent expect a recovery in the third quarter, while 17% are looking to the fourth quarter of next year for a recovery. Nearly a fifth of CMOs say they don't expect a turnaround until 2010.
Let's do some math: Apparently 35% of CMOs think the economy will recover earlier than Q3 '08, and 29% think the recovery will come in the third quarter, which means instead of reading:
The vast majority, or 65%, of CMOs surveyed said they do not expect to see a meaningful turnaround in the economy until the third quarter ...
It could just as truthfully read:
The vast majority, or 64%, of CMOs surveyed said they expect to see a turnaround by the third quarter ...
But that would be unchicly positive, wouldn't it?

Okay, I'll stop the bashing long enough to point out a rare positive piece of news for the newspaper biz -- 57% of respondents plan to spend a majority of their budgets in print.

Abercrombie takes the high (margin) road

While practically every other retailer is cutting prices, Abercrombie & Fitch expresses fears that price-cutting would damage its brand image. I'm a big believer in maintaining the brand, but I must admit that I'd probably be willing to compromise my principles in the face of sales figures like these:

While just about everybody was down in November, I don't think anyone else was -28%. The positive, though is that A&F has maintained not just their brand image, but also their margins:
Gross margins at American Eagle slid 6.4 percentage points to 41% of sales in the third quarter, while at Pacific Sunwear they fell 4.9 percentage points to 28.7% of sales. Abercrombie, meanwhile, closed the quarter with relatively high gross margins of 66% of sales, with a much smaller decline of 0.2 percentage point.
So maybe A&F's bottom line isn't suffering much more than it would with price-cutting, in which case protecting the brand makes sense. A question remaining to be answered, though, is what happens when the inventory backs up. The WSJ article says A&F is maintaining normal inventory levels, but if sales are down so sharply, then there's going to be a lot of stuff gathering dust on the shelves in January, meaning either huge sales or stale merchandise.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

Monday, December 08, 2008

MEI names Petrelli as VP-Sales

Andrea Petrelli has been appointed as the new VP-Sales and Business Development at MEI, a supplier of TPM software. From the press release:

In this function, Ms. Petrelli is responsible for developing value-added partnerships, and for overseeing MEI's global operations and sales management efforts. She replaces Fred Schroeder, who previously held the position of Executive Vice President of Sales.

Andrea Petrelli comes to MEI with a successful track record in managing operations and growing sales for global consumer package goods manufacturers. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Finance and Operations for Pinnacle Foods Canada where she was responsible for finance, trade and inventory management, production planning, and sales operations for the manufacturer, a marketer and distributor of branded food products. After being promoted from Pinnacle's Director of Finance, she was instrumental in driving the strategy to maintain sales in a time of extreme market turbulence among retailers in Canada, while continuing double digit growth of the bottom line. Ms. Petrelli began her sales career with Compaq Canada and went on to assume several sales and finance positions with Nabisco Canada LLC - one of Kraft's billion-dollar brands.

Anybody who can cross over between Sales and Finance is a real Renaissance person. Best wishes to Andrea in her new role.

The MAP enforcers

Apparently there is a new service industry springing up to help manufacturers enforce minimum advertised price (MAP) policies.
Tiny companies like NetEnforcers -- with only 56 staffers jammed into a dim, spare cubicle farm in Arizona -- wield economic power far beyond their size. These companies scour hundreds of thousands of Web sites daily, looking for retailers offering bargains below the "minimum advertised price," or MAP, set by manufacturers on an array of consumer goods.

When NetEnforcers finds items like cameras, handbags or ovens for sale at too-low prices, as it claims to do 5,000 to 10,000 times a day, it alerts its clients, including Sony Corp., Black & Decker Corp., Cisco Systems, JVC Kenwood Holdings and Samsung.
MAP is slightly different from reseller price maintenance (RPM) in that MAP deals with policies involving advertised price, whereas RPM deals with efforts by a manufacturer to set a selling price, whether advertised or not. Both types of policies are getting a lot of attention these days, and my guess is that the level of attention is likely to escalate considerably in 2009.
The FTC is investigating musical-instrument and audio-gear makers for possible MAP-related antitrust violations. And online retailers such as BabyAge.com and HomeCenter.com have sued manufacturers with MAP or similar price-maintenance policies, alleging antitrust violations.

Consolidation isn't just for retailers

I write often about the effects of retail concentration, but something that I sometimes don't mention often enough is that the same is happening among the retailers' suppliers. In fact, it can be argued that vendor consolidation is perhaps an inevitable corollary -- vendors must consolidate to be able to deal with their huge customers.

As we watch retail bankruptcies in the recession speed up the trend to channel consolidation that has been going on for decades, we can expect to see vendors following the same path:
Slowing purchases of clothing and accessories may spur consolidation in the fashion industry, Liz Claiborne Inc's chief executive officer (CEO) said on Friday [...]

He said there could be more consolidation among department store vendors than among the stores themselve

Hard times in Nascar Nation

After being the hot sport, at least in terms of sponsorship, for a number of years, Nascar has slipped badly recently.
  • 12 of the 42 drivers have no sponsor for the 2009 season
  • TV ads were down in 2008 to $539mil, a drop from $567mil in 2007
  • Both TV ratings and track attendance have dropped three years in a row

Nonetheless, Nascar still remains the #1 sport in trerms of sponsorship, and trails only NFL in most other measures. Still, the numbers above seem particularly troubling when you consider than the full effects of the automakers' problems haven't been factored in yet for Nascar.

Channel-stuffing in a recession

I had meant to write a post speculating that we might see an increase in channel-stuffing as the economy dropped off and some desperate manufacturers looked for ways to make their numbers. Channel-stuffing is always a stupid idea, but even smart people can get really stupid when they panic.

I was basing my thinking on a couple things I had read in which some small to mid-sized retailers indicated that they were being pressured by their vendors to take on more fourth-quarter inventory than they felt they could sell.

Here's an opposing view
, based on something I hadn't considered -- the credit crunch might make the channel impossible to stuff, even if the retailers were willing:
Will there be an increase in the level of channel stuffing that occurs if vendors are under pressure to compensate for softer markets ... ?

I don't think so because stuffing happens when there is credit available. If there is less credit it will be cleaner. Banks and insurance companies will have reduced the credit and so I think you'll start to see the real players emerge that are committed to the business and have their own capital investment.

The people who used to make money in between as the second or third intermediaries will be wiped out by the credit crunch, which will improve the profitability of real customers.

Tribune declares bankruptcy

Adding to the general woes of the newspaper industry, today Tribune Company went into Chapter 11.
Media conglomerate Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Monday, as the owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Cubs and other properties tries to deal with $13 billion in debt.

Severe reductions in advertising this year because of the recession have put pressure on the Chicago-based company. Most of its debt comes from the complex transaction in which the company was taken private by real estate mogul Sam Zell last year.

Private label increases retailer leverage

Wall Street Journal reported on current increases in sales of private label products, and made a case for those increases improving the bargaining position of retailers vis-a-vis their brand name suppliers, with particular emphasis on the increases in trade promotion funding that may result.
Private-label gains come as some name brands lose market share, a shift that industry experts say could benefit grocers on several fronts in their dealing with suppliers. To help further promote their brands, branded consumer goods companies may have to kick in more to a retailer's marketing fund to pay for discounts, two-for-one offers or prime placement in supermarket circulars. Retailers may also get juicier rebate offers from their suppliers, as incentive to help push sales of branded products.
Since PL still only amounts to 16% of volume and with many brands still having a powerful allure to consumers, retailers need to find strategies that balance their marketing of PL and brand names. Trade promotion and pricing will be an important piece of that balancing act..

Part of that strategy may come to include more so-called trade funds that grocers receive from national brands to promote their products in various ways, Karabus's Mr. Weintraub said. This money is usually hashed out in annual contracts, which, with the changing landscape and end of year coming up, are producing some interesting discussions right now.

Additional talks will likely center on price increases that national brands pushed through to retailers throughout the past year as costs for ingredients and fuel rose.

The increasing role of private label and the effect it will have on trade promotion funding and pricing points out (yet again) how vital it is that brand marketers have effective tools for analyzing and optimizing their promotional efforts.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mattel gets court order against Bratz

How nice would it be to get a court order forbidding a principal competitor to sell their products? Mattel just pulled that off, being granted an order forbidding MGA to sell its Bratz dolls..

U.S. District Judge Stephen Larson in Riverside, California, yesterday granted Mattel’s request to stop MGA from making most of its multiethnic fashion dolls that have contributed to a drop in Barbie sales since being first sold in 2001. A jury earlier found that a Mattel designer came up with the Bratz name and characters and secretly took the idea to MGA.

“Mattel has established its exclusive rights to the Bratz drawings, and the court has found that hundreds of the MGA parties’ products, including all the currently available core female fashion dolls Mattel was able to locate in the marketplace, infringe those rights,” Larson said in his ruling.

Mattel had earlier won an award of $100 million in damages. MGA is appealing both that decision and now the injunction.

Borders isn't for sale anymore

Borders has been reported to be up for sale since spring, but now they are saying the "For Sale" has been taken down.
Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Borders Group Inc. recently reported a widening loss for the third quarter, but said it is no longer for sale.
The cynical side of me wants to sneer that the only reason they aren't for sale is that they figured out there are no buyers, but there's another side to the story (and sometimes we can overdo the cynicism):
The bookseller has been in the midst of a turnaround for more than a year, during which it weighed the possible sale of its core business. However, company executives said Tuesday that the progress made during that time will allow the company to stand on its own, even in the middle of an economic downturn. During the restructuring, Borders cut staff, sold select business units, revamped some stores and dramatically lowered its inventory and debt.
Good for them -- let's hope that the restructuring has enabled them to weather the storm.

Friday, December 05, 2008

For sale: thirty papers

Thirty newspapers around the country are up for sale, with apparently few if any buyers. Denver's Rocky Mountain News is the latest to go on the block.

The newspaper industry has been caught in a tailspin for three years, a trend variously blamed on plummeting ad revenues, declining readership, growing competition from the Internet and a deepening national recession.

On Thursday, Colorado's oldest newspaper joined the growing list of dailies on the market. E.W. Scripps Co., owner of the 149-year-old Rocky Mountain News, offered to sell it after reporting an $11 million loss through the first nine months of this year.

"It's a terrible time to put the Rocky Mountain News up for sale, clearly," said John Morton, a veteran newspaper-industry analyst in Maryland. "Whatever price they might attract probably will be quite low. I think it's going to be very difficult to find a buyer."

The RMN is the #2 paper in Denver, and there are few markets that can support two papers anymore. Here in Chicago, the Sun-Times has been reported to be up for sale for a while. Worse, now there's a report by an industry analyst saying that some markets may end up with no papers at all:
Newspaper and newspaper groups are likely to default on their debt and go out of business next year -- leaving "several cities" with no daily newspaper at all, Fitch Ratings says in a report on media released Wednesday.

"Fitch believes more newspapers and newspaper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010," the Chicago-based credit ratings firm said in a report on the outlook for U.S. media and entertainment.
I wonder if we will end up with a few national and/or regional papers, supplemented by hyper-local sections; e.g., the Dallas Morning News and Houston Tribune being pretty much the only newspapers in Texas, but being distributed in Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi with local sections (much as metro papers today have neighborhood sections).

Update, Sunday 12/7: It appears we can add the Miami Herald to the list. McClatchy took on a lot of debt when they bought Knight-Ridder two years ago, which is weighing them down now, and the Herald is one of their more valuable assets.

Marketing blamed for Black Friday tragedy

A lawsuit filed by relatives of the Walmart worker killed by stampeding shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving says that marketing hype is partly to blame:
A complaint filed today in New York State Supreme Court in the Bronx on behalf of survivors of the fallen worker, Jdimytai Damour, claims that besides failing to provide adequate security, Wal-Mart "engaged in specific marketing and advertising techniques to specifically attract a large crowd and create an environment of frenzy and mayhem," according to published reports.
The local police chief similarly blamed Walmart and their marketing:
"When you advertise products, and you market it heavily, and it garners public interest, and it's great bargains with limited quantities of merchandise, and you have a crowd that can grow beyond the quantity available, it is a recipe for disaster," Mr. Mulvey said.

He also said Wal-Mart didn't appear to have enough security to handle the crowds and that police had told retailers in the county two weeks earlier that security and crowd control were their responsibility.
I'm seldom inclined to say that anyone is responsible for anyone else's actions. The members of the crowd who couldn't control their lust for bargains are the ones responsible, and if they can be identified they should be prosecuted. But Walmart (and many other retailers) have unquestionably gone overboard with Black Friday hype, and maybe this tragedy will restore some sense of proportion, among both retailers and shoppers.