Strasburg poster promotion angers Sunday subscribers
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?!”
| June 14, 2010; 3:40 PM ET
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