A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the likelihood that our readers would soon be unable to find the Flyer at local Kroger stores. It was the result of a decision made at Kroger's corporate headquarters in Cincinnati that no free publications would be allowed in any of its stores after October 15th.
The Kroger company claimed that the decision was made because "more publications continue to shift to digital formats, resulting in less customers using the products." (Let's forgive them their use of "less" when they meant "fewer"; there probably aren't many English majors in the Kroger corporate food chain.) But the fact is that while it's true that paid print circulation is declining at many daily newspapers, it's actually increasing at free publications.
The Flyer is a member of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), a national organization of around 100 alternative newsweeklies, many of which are in cities where Kroger is the dominant grocery retailer. AAN has started a nationwide campaign called "Don't Lose Local News," but frankly, it doesn't appear to be having much effect.
Colorado Springs Independent founder John Weiss said last week that the pickup number for his publication in that city's Krogers had grown to 17,000 in recent years. Berl Schwartz, publisher of the Lansing City Pulse, said his paper's pickup rate in Kroger had almost tripled since 2012.
"The price of daily papers has increased steeply while content has declined just as sharply," said Schwartz. "As a result, many readers have stopped buying print dailies. In market after market, free alternative weeklies have filled a big hole in local news."
Weiss has launched an "un-boycott" in Colorado Springs. "Keep shopping at the stores," he says, "but while there, ask to speak to the manager on duty to request that they keep our paper available." In Lansing last week, the city council passed a resolution asking Kroger corporate leaders to reconsider their decision.
Similar actions are happening in other alt-weekly cities, including Cincinnati, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Oakland, and elsewhere. But barring an unlikely last-minute corporate change of mind, readers in those cities — and in Memphis — will have to start picking up their local alt-weekly at other locations.
In Memphis, 9,000 copies of the Flyer are (or were) picked up in Kroger stores each week, nearly a quarter of our circulation. The Kroger pickup rate was around 95 percent, meaning there weren't many papers left at the end of the week — and that lots of Memphians relied on Kroger for access to the paper.
I was manning a Flyer booth at an event a couple weeks back, one of those deals where companies set up informational tables and hand out keychains and pens and other tchotchkes. We had a stack of Flyers on the table, and they went like hotcakes. I was surprised and gratified at how many folks, many of them older African Americans, told me how much they appreciated the Flyer. And many of them added, "I pick it up at Kroger every week."
So, what are we going to do with those 9,000 papers? We're working on it. We're increasing the draw at many of our other locations, especially those in Midtown and Downtown. We're currently at all locations of Cash Saver, Superlo, Huey's, Jack Pirtle's, Central BBQ, and any public library. We're also adding new locations, including (as of October 15th) all CVS pharmacies and Exxon stations — with more to come.
We'll keep you apprised as other distribution agreements are made. (Walgreens, are you listening?) If you have a suggestion or a question about locations, email our distribution manager Carrie O'Guin (email@example.com).
We are also in the process of creating a pickup location guide/map that will be printed in the paper on occasion and put online permanently. In a city like Memphis, a free publication like the Flyer is a valuable source of news and information, and we intend to keep getting it into the hands of those who want to read it — Kroger or no Kroger.