Many people think that the money from subscriptions is how a newspaper survives, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. At best, subscription income covers the cost of getting the paper delivered, and not always even that. Many newspapers spend a lot of money managing a circulation department. In fact, several of my newspapers were free because it was both cheaper and more profitable to give them away than to sell them. Newspapers survive on advertising. Without advertising dollars, no newspaper or TV or radio station can make it.
Early in my newspaper career, up in Grays Harbor, Washington, there was a man who owned a large mobile home dealership, as well as a lumberyard, building supply store, and other businesses. His name was Bob, and I really wanted his business. In fact, I needed his business!
Bob always advertised heavily on the radio and with the other newspaper in town, but he would shake his head when I would come into his office and tell me, “Nick, I like you, and I consider you a friend, but nobody reads that free rag of yours.”
I never believed in giving up, so I called on Bob every week. In fact, I made a point of calling on Bob every Monday afternoon, sometime between 3 and 3:30. I did this for several months and never missed a week, and I always got the same answer. “Nobody reads that little paper of yours, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.”
Over time I became such a regular at his office that I was running late once because the drawbridge across the river in Aberdeen became stuck in the open position and I couldn’t get there. I finally turned around and went back to my office, and about 4 o’clock, I got a phone call from Bob, asking if I was okay. He was worried that I had not shown up on schedule.
Bob and I became good friends. He was a very successful businessman and a mentor to me in some ways. We would meet for lunch once in a while, and he invited my wife and me to his house for a cookout several times. But try as I might, I could not convince Bob to buy an ad because “nobody read my paper.”
One weekend I was at the grocery store and I happened to bump into Bob’s daughter. We chatted for a few minutes, and she reminded me that the coming Wednesday was her dad’s birthday and I was invited to a birthday barbecue at the family home. I promised her that I would be there.
That’s when the wheels started turning. Wednesday was not only my friend Bob’s birthday, it was also the day my weekly newspaper hit the street. So I decided to convince Bob that people really did read my newspaper.
Now, Bob was a prankster with a great sense of humor, and I had been on the receiving end of his practical jokes a couple of times, so I decided he was due for some payback. I would kill two birds with the same stone by showing him that people did read my paper. I always carried a camera, and I had several pictures of Bob I had taken at one time or another, including one of him sitting in his vintage Cadillac convertible.
This was in the days before cell phones, and most calls to Bob’s office went through the secretary out front. But I had his personal phone number. Not many people had that private number.
My newspaper hit the streets bright and early Wednesday morning, and the back page was covered with a picture of Bob sitting in his old car smiling. The 72-point bold red headline said, “Happy 60th Birthday Bob.” Under that in smaller, but still large type, was the message “Bob doesn’t believe anybody reads my newspaper, so please do me a favor and call him at this number (the private phone number on his desk) and tell him that Nick Russell said happy birthday. A man only turns 60 once, and it’s important to me that you help make Bob’s day.”
It was probably about 10 that morning when my secretary said Bob was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I told her to tell him I would have to get back to him in a little bit. At 11 o’clock, Bob called again, and I was too busy to talk to him. I finally took his call about two in the afternoon, and Bob laughed and said, “You SOB, you put that in the paper, and I haven’t been able to get a damn thing done today because the phone is ringing off the hook. I finally had to unplug it, and now they’re calling the switchboard!”
I told Bob that I had no idea how that could possibly be happening since nobody read my little newspaper. The next issue, and for all the rest of the time I owned it, Bob always had at least a full-page ad in my newspaper from one of his businesses, and sometimes several.
Oh, and by the way, the barbecue was delicious, and so was the birthday cake.
It’s Thursday, so it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – I want to be 14 again and ruin my life differently. I have new ideas.