If you're like most Mid-Southerners, you've quite likely paid a visit or two to a Kroger store. Maybe you're a weekly regular or perhaps just an occasional shopper, but it's hard to imagine any local resident not having been to the ubiquitous Big K. The largest grocery chain in the U.S., Kroger is by far the dominant grocer in the tri-state area, with 32 stores located from Millington to Southaven and all points in between. In Memphis, we even give our Kroger stores nicknames. If, for example, someone says they're going to "Kosher Kroger," chances are you'll know exactly where they're headed. Kroger is part of the local zeitgeist.
It's also quite likely that you've noticed the many free publications available in the Kroger stores' lobbies. There are magazines and newspapers of all sizes and kinds — those geared to senior citizens, African Americans, Hispanics, the LGBTQ+ community, parents, and kids. There are magazines about health and fitness and real estate services, and there are slick society magazines such as RSVP and 4Memphis.
And the Memphis Flyer, of course.
It appears that's all about to go away. Kroger is severing its relationship with DistribuTech, the company that has long had the contract to distribute the aforementioned free publications in Kroger stores. The current deal ends October 15, 2019. At this point, it is unclear whether any other arrangements can be made by any of the local publications with Kroger, either with individual stores or region-wide. DistribuTech says the edict from Kroger to pull all free publications from its stores is coming from its national headquarters in Cincinnati.
That's too bad because Kroger was providing a true community service with its free publications distribution, especially in a city like Memphis, where "free" information is often the only information available for a great many of our citizens. They may not be able to afford a subscription to the daily paper or the latest issue of Vanity Fair, but they can pick up the Tennessee Tribune or Best Times or the Flyer on their way out of the grocery store and get some insight into what's happening in their community.
All these local publications will presumably be pursuing other options to get their products distributed to the public, but losing Kroger as a distribution center is a huge blow for many of them.
While it's not as damaging for the Flyer, since we already have more than 500 other distribution locations all over the Mid-South, it does affect roughly a fourth of our circulation. We'll keep you updated in the next few weeks about any new circulation arrangements and let you know about all new locations where you can pick up your print copy of the Flyer. Rest assured that we won't cut our circulation; we'll just redistribute it via other outlets — new and existing.
We also suspect Kroger will be hearing from its customers about the policy change. All these publications have loyal readers, most of whom won't be pleased to find that their favorite free magazines are no longer available. The Flyer, for example, has a weekly pickup rate that's well above 90 percent, and our readers are creatures of habit. If they can't find the Flyer at their favorite pickup location, they may not be amused.
It won't be as easy for some of the other publications listed above, so if you're a regular reader of any of those papers or magazines, let them know you'll keep supporting them because many are in a bit of a pickle. Since free publications don't charge for their product, they survive on advertising. And that advertising comes as a result of a publication having a healthy number of readers — circulation — the folks that advertisers want to reach. A strong circulation is critical to the free-publication business model.
It's a model that's worked for the Flyer for more than 30 years, thank you very much. Our advertisers know that we have tens of thousands of loyal, engaged readers who never miss an issue. With any luck, that model will continue to work for another 30 years, Kroger or no Kroger.
As I mentioned above, we'll keep you posted on any and all developments in the next few weeks, both in print and on the Flyer's website. Consider this a heads up.