Several former advertising employees at Yes Weekly said in recent interviews that they worried about whether the circulation number they were told to use reflected the right amount. We’re granting anonymity because all of them feared retaliation and most or all still work in the same or a similar industry. None are employees of Triad City Beat.
One sales rep who worked at Yes Weekly for several years said that for the duration of employment, ad sales were based on a circulation of 43,000.
“I feel like I knew in my heart we didn’t do that, but I don’t think I ever had proof of it,” the former employee said. The former employee asked Womack about the perceived discrepancy, and said he was evasive but didn’t admit to a lower figure.
A second former sales employee who worked at Yes Weekly until a few years ago said the sales sheet she used for four years didn’t change, though she couldn’t remember the exact circulation number given.
“There were of course rumors inside of the office of Yes Weekly not printing the amount we said,” she recalled. “I remember staying out of it because that’s not my department.”
That environment of suspicion within the sales department, fueled by occasional disbelieving comments from potential advertisers, contributed to her decision to leave, she said.
“This number matters,” she said. “I was young and I was loyal and I listened to my boss. That’s not my department, but we should be involved as sales people. It’s basically the drivers. They’re the ones who get to see it on a pallet and know.”
A third former employee says she quit because of the rumors.
She remembers a specific incident where one of her accounts ordered inserts to go inside each copy of the paper. The total number of papers was somewhere around 40,000, she recalled, though she couldn’t put her finger on an exact figure. She picked up the inserts from the account and brought them back to the office, she said, but then a co-worker intimated that there would be far too many inserts to mate with the available papers.
“There was definitely an impression that there was a discrepancy,” she said. “It wasn’t the first time there was a discrepancy about how many go out versus how many we said. That was actually one of the things that led me to want me to leave because I was concerned that I wasn’t delivering what I was promising.”
The former employee, who still works in media sales, said that’s a big problem.
“The only thing you really have is the circulation number,” she said. “The circulation number is really important for print. I never had return rates — how many that were left that you picked up. People are smart, and most of them know enough to ask. The sales reps, it makes them look bad.
“It’s not a victimless crime because you’re taking people’s money under false pretenses,” she continued, “but you’re also having your employees misrepresent, and that’s ultimately part of the reason I left.”
! ! !
Let’s return briefly to something else puzzling in Womack’s email on Oct. 15.
Womack claimed that “we don’t keep as close an eye on this as a paid product,” a possible comparison to the Jamestown News, a paid publication which he owns. Does that make any sense?
Indy Week, the free alternative-weekly newspaper covering the nearby Triangle region, used to be printed at the Fayetteville Observer, where Yes Weekly prints.
Publisher Susan Harper said Indy Week switched their printing to the Charlotte Observer in early 2015, likely the first week of February. But the process in Fayetteville, which Indy Week followed for years, was consistent and specific.
“We would send them a press-and-ship order,” Harper said. “It would have the total number of copies we were having printed, times the number of pages per copy. We were literally telling them how many pages total we were printing. We would have a line that would say the number of copies… and how many bundles we expected and how many copies per bundle. I mean, that’s how explicit we got.”
The Fayetteville Observer expected a specified order each week, even if the amount didn’t change, and billed monthly for the cost, Harper said.
“We did get emailed invoices each week giving us a report confirming the print run and what the charge was for that week,” she said. “We would confirm that because we didn’t want to pay for papers that they hadn’t printed.”
Knowing the exact number printed is very important, she said, because each driver is given a specific assignment with stops and number per stop, so they need to receive the right number of bundles.
“We actually count out the number of bundles we have for our delivery people,” Harper said. “If we’re short, we need to know because we need to contact the printer. It’s very important to us that we have the correct number of bundles and papers delivered to each place and that we know exactly how many papers there are; otherwise our drivers are going to be short while they’re out delivering.”
Kiffany Cain, who oversees commercial customer support for the Fayetteville Observer, said generally commercial publications send press orders before each print run.
“Any of our commercial jobs, and that includes other newspapers, would have to send in a press order,” Cain said, adding that the press order includes information about page count, the quantity, which pages are in color and shipping information, among other details.
The “bill of lading,” or invoice attached to deliveries, often doesn’t state the number of copies because it’s considered proprietary, Cain said, but the number is still included for some clients.
At a minimum, bills are sent directly to the business or whoever is paying for the press order on a monthly basis, Cain said, but it’s usually more frequent for weeklies.
“Generally the commercial jobs, if they’re a weekly publication, I send them out each week,” Cain said of the printing bills.
She directed specific questions about Yes Weekly to Production Manager Pam Richards, who could not be reached for comment.
Indy Week prints and distributes 35,000 papers each week, and has 17 delivery people to get the job done, including restocking some stops on the weekend. For the sake of comparison, Triad City Beat distributes 10,000 copies using five drivers. Yes Weekly claims to employ two delivery drivers to distribute anywhere from 17,700 to 45,000 copies a week.
And that’s the question at the crux of the matter — how many copies does Yes Weekly distribute, and if the number has changed, when and why did the change occur?
! ! !