Last week, a longtime reader called our offices to regretfully report that his place of employment would no longer be carrying our free newspaper.
It’s noteworthy that he works at Starbucks, and that the reason for our ejection has nothing to do with our paper itself. Starbucks had made a company-wide decision, he said, to remove all newspapers.
His story checks out. Back in July Starbucks declared that its retail stores would no longer sell newspapers. The reason: People kept stealing them. That’s no small thing: A single weekday issue of the New York Times cost $2.50, and Sunday edition goes for $6 outside New York City.
Then, in October, the Starbucks corporation announced, perhaps as an olive branch to its fellow mega conglomerate, that guests using the wifi in their coffeeshops would enjoy complimentary access to several paywalled mainstream news websites in lieu of selling their papers: Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune… that sort of thing. The Times, however, did not play ball.
So these mainstream news outlets manage to retain their readers while they’re in Starbucks, possibly collecting a fee in the process but in either case reaping the eyeballs that set the price for their own in-house ads. And Starbucks gets to assure its news-oriented customers that their access to these papers will continue unfettered, albeit in digital form, while they enjoy their peppermint lattes and Starbucks’ brand of hospitality (good luck with the crossword-puzzle people).
It’s what the neckties call a “win-win.” Except, of course, for us, and every other free paper that distributes at Starbucks’ more than 14,000 US locations.
This is not going to make or break our newspaper. Each Starbucks was good for about 15-25 papers, and our distribution team didn’t hit every single one in the Triad — there are almost 50 of them. We go through more papers at Deep Roots Market in a week than every Starbucks on the route combined.
But this means that approximately 250 readers who pick up their Triad City Beat at Starbucks every week will have to find another place to get their papers (Psst: We’ve got a map on the website!)
It’s important to remember, too, that free newspapers like ours were not part of the problem that Starbucks was attempting to address. You can’t steal something that’s freely given.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the New York Times website would be available for free on Starbucks wifi; it will not. This has been corrected in the online version.