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Strasburg poster promotion angers Sunday subscribers

By Andy Alexander

With Stephen Strasburg the talk of baseball fans everywhere, The Post decided to cash in on the mania surrounding the Washington Nationals pitching sensation. For Sunday’s Post, it produced a free glossy poster of the 21-year-old phenom throwing his first Major League Baseball pitch last Tuesday on his way to a 14-strikeout victory against the Pirates.

The Post heavily promoted the smallish, 12-by-10-inch color poster through advertisements in Friday and Saturday’s print editions and on local radio. But what was envisioned as a savvy way to boost circulation has produced an angry backlash from subscribers, because the posters were not included in the Sunday Post delivered to their homes.

The ads said the posters would be available only in editions sold on newsstands. If subscribers wanted one, they had to purchase a second paper at a newsstand or make a special request via e-mail for a copy that would be mailed to them. “While supplies last” said the print ads, which added that it could take several weeks for delivery.

That left many home-delivery subscribers feeling like second-class citizens.

“Why do you treat your home subscribers like they do not matter?” e-mailed Robert Penley of Leesburg, who said he has taken The Post for more than 32 years. “By making this poster available only at retail outlets, you are telling the subscribers that we are not as important to you as those who buy at retail outlets.”

“I read that newspapers in general are an endangered species, and your indescribably dumb marketing decision will deservedly cost you subscribers,” e-mailed John W. Vollbrecht of Herndon.

The marketing idea also produced negative public exposure. The Web site for radio station WTOP, which carried Post ads for the color print, said many callers to its “Talkback” line were “incensed that the poster was not being sent to them along with their regular paper.”

Rich Handloff, The Post’s director of consumer marketing, said the poster was offered as “an incentive to purchase a single copy.” He said it was similar to posters offered by The Post at newsstands when the Nationals returned Major League Baseball to Washington several years ago or when singer Michael Jackson died last June. Handloff said at least 170,000 Strasburg posters were printed.

He said The Post was “very transparent” in saying that the posters would be available only through newsstand purchases or if specially requested by home delivery subscribers. (Subscribers may request them by sending an e-mail with their delivery address to: PostPointsQuestions@washpost.com, or by calling The Post’s subscriber service number at 202-334-6100.)

But the strategy seems risky at a time when Sunday circulation of The Post continues a worrisome decline and the paper is focused on retaining subscribers following price increases.

The most recent quarterly figures show that Post home delivery circulation dipped from about 660,000 for the first three months of 2009 to roughly 622,400 for the same period this year. At the same time, Sunday single-copy newsstand sales declined from about 185,600 during the first quarter of last year to slightly less than 150,000 during the first three months of this year.

Handloff said printing enough posters for each subscriber would have been “expensive,” adding that the marketing idea was seen as offering a “premium” to newsstand purchasers.

But many subscribers who e-mailed or called me said priority should have been given to them.

“I was very excited to see that there would be a poster in my Sunday paper,” wrote Margaret Keller of Gaithersburg, who said she attended last Tuesday’s game, where Strasburg made his debut. “Except then I started hearing the radio commercials: ‘Only in papers at your favorite retail location!’” She continued: “As a young, potentially long-term subscriber, I thought I deserved just as much as those who picked it up at the grocery store on a whim.”

Gwen Verhoff of the District, who described herself as a “long-time subscriber,” wrote that she felt “disrespected. I have to ask for this?!”

By Andy Alexander  | June 14, 2010; 3:40 PM ET
 
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Comments

As a 35-plus year home delivery subscriber, I was incensed to find out that the Post would not be delivering the Strasburg poster to its loyal subscriber base. Then I saw a picture of the so-called poster (at 10" x 12" closer to the size of a piece of TP than a poster) and was incensed that the Post would think people would pay good money for it, even if wrapped in a copy of the Sunday paper. The Washington Post. If you don't get it, you don't get it. And more and more with each passing day, I'm wondering why I do.

Posted by: nunof1 | June 14, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a subscriber, and I think the way the poster thing was handled was a pretty rotten way to treat subscribers. On top of which, Handloff's explanations - it was designed as an incentive to purchase a single copy, and the Post was very transparent about the fact that the poster would only be available in retail stores - misses the point by a mile. We know the idea was that the poster would be an incentive to buy a single copy, Rich. WE THINK THAT STINKS. And we know you've been transparent about it. Not too many people are arguing that you've been sneaky. JUST MEAN.

Posted by: walkleftstandright | June 15, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

man, it's hard to please everyone. don't worry, andrew, at least some of us have experience in the newspaper industry and no how difficult and underappreciated your jobs are.

the newspaper is not making enough money off your newspaper subscribers or newstand buyers, so therefore no one really deserves a poster. stop complaining.

Posted by: dcfilmindustryexaminer | June 15, 2010 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Yet another in a long line of missteps from Post management (which definitely includes hiring David Weigl).

Posted by: WashingtonDame | June 15, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

As with Petula Dvorak's column today, wherein she says renting the Mall out for a Hollywood movie will bring in a "gazillion" dollars, how "expensive" would it have been to put posters in the papers meant for home delivery?

My understanding of printing is that the big cost is getting the presses ready to go and starting the job. After that, the price per unit (in this case, the poster) drops considerably.

Of course the Post should have given posters to subscribers; it's a no-brainer.

I didn't know about this poster promo till I read it on the Omblog, so thanks, Andy, you're even breaking news these days.

Posted by: steve20912 | June 15, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

"That left many home-delivery subscribers feeling like second-class citizens."

We are second-class. The MSM are the elite.

-------------------------------------------

"... I thought I deserved just as much as those who picked it up at the grocery store on a whim.”

You'll get NOTHING and like it!

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | June 15, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

But I read the Washington Post online and I didn't get a poster!! Waaa! That's not fair! Why am I a second-class citizen?

Oh, wait, I get to read the WaPo for free. As for you subscribers, whining about this makes you look like entitled brats.

Your subscription doesn't even cover the cost of the newspaper. If WaPo went entirely with subscriptions to cover their costs, you would have to pay through the nose for the newspaper. Right now, it's like you're at a restaurant eating a steak for $1 when it cost the restaurant $5 to buy it and give to you. So, stop whining that you're getting a newspaper for less than it actually cost the newspaper company to make it.

Posted by: rlalumiere | June 16, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

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