The One Day Newspaper Price War

For 30¢more, at least the kid could throw it on the porch

If you walked down to your corner newspaper box on Sunday, April 2 with a quarter and a dime in your hand, you were probably not happy to find that you didn’t have enough money to buy a paper. Either paper. The News and the Herald had simultaneously jumped to 50¢. You may have thought that was a little fishy.

And if you bought a copy of the News the next morning, you may have thought they had a lot of gall to run a political cartoon decrying the evils of inflation caused by the “Latest Price Hikes.”

The price increases by both newspapers for Sunday single copies (up 43 percent) and for monthly subscription rates (up 29 percent to $4.50) do raise some questions. Primarily, how is it that both papers happened to make identical increases at the very same time? In any business, such a situation smacks of price fixing. The question becomes more intriguing when it is noted that neither paper has raised prices since 1974, when both also did so simultaneously.

However, it seems that, at least in the most recent case, any communication between the two papers of intent to raise prices was not done behind illegal closed doors. It was done in public view – in print. In their March 15 edition, in fine print in a small box on page two, the News changed their listed prices to the new rates “effective April 1.” Herald executives noticed the change, but waited 10 days for the News to make a front-page announcement of the increases. The next day, March 26, the Herald announced its price increases. It appears to have been a kind of waiting game, to see who would bite the bullet first.

But are the increases really warranted? Since 1974, production costs have indeed risen dramatically – newsprint is up 39 percent and the price of ink has doubled. But in those four years, the advertising rates of both newspapers have risen 55 percent, and ad revenues represent the bulk of a newspaper’s profit. On the relative scale, the new $4.50 subscription rate brings the Dallas newspapers up to the prevailing price in Houston; the Dallas rates are 50 cents higher than in Fort Worth, a dollar higher than in San Antonio.

In one respect, the papers’ moves are not identical: The price hike profits at the News will, for the time being, go to the company; the Herald, however, will reportedly pass some 30 cents of the increase down the corporate ladder to a deserving beneficiary – the newspaper delivery boy.

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