Skip to comments.How Business Travelers Contributed to USA Today's Decline (Dinosaur Media DeathWatch™)
Posted on 09/05/2010 8:07:09 AM PDT by abb
Even in an industry accustomed to bad news, the recent cutbacks at USA Today exposed a harsh reality: For many former readers, newspapers have become so passé that it's become hard even to give them away.
Last month, the Gannett-owned publication announced it was laying off about 130 people, shifting its emphasis from its iconic print edition, and devoting more resources online. USA Today has experienced a sharp circulation drop, even among people who get the paper free -- the business travelers who make up more than half of its readership.
As road warriors know, copies of USA Today have become almost as ubiquitous as Bibles and little shampoo bottles in most hotels. For years, Gannett has maintained distribution agreements with major lodging chains, which leave complimentary copies outside guestroom doors each weekday morning.
The problem is that a lot of travelers nowadays simply aren't bothering to bend down and get them.
"People will pick it up from in front of their door only because it's kind of strange just to step over it," said Steven Carvell, a Cornell University professor of Hotel Administration. "But they're not being read through."
Last year, Marriott International -- in the name of "reducing waste" -- announced it would discontinue automatic newspaper delivery in more than 2,600 hotels. Customers at about 400 full-service Marriott properties nationwide still can ask for a USA Today to be brought to their rooms. (They also can request a local newspaper or the Wall Street Journal, which is aggressively trying to skim off what's left of the hotel newspaper business.) At the limited-service hotels that make up the bulk of the Marriott portfolio, such as Courtyard and Residence Inn, free newspapers now are available only in the lobby.
By Marriott's count, the new policy reduced USA Today's paid circulation by about 50,000 copies a day, worsening a decline the publication had experienced because of the slow economy and a nationwide drop in business travel. (While the newspapers are given to guests free, USA Today can count them as paid circulation because hotels purchase them at a bulk rate and technically pass along the cost to customers as part of the room price. The fine print on hotel bills often notes that a 75 cent or dollar newspaper charge has been included in the room rate.)
A changing ritual
When Marriott announced the policy change last year, it said demand for free newspapers had declined 25 percent. "I visit more than 250 hotels a year, and more often than not, I'm stepping over unclaimed newspapers as I walk down the hallway," explained Chairman Bill Marriott, Jr., who sounds far less enthusiastic about USA Today now than he did when he personally appeared in a 1984 television ad promoting the then-new publication.
In that era when USA Today was an ambitious and brashly-colorful upstart, Marriott was the first major hotel chain to partner with Gannett and deliver the paper to guest rooms. The practice quickly spread through the travel industry and played a big role in the publication's early success, giving USA Today a strong following among upscale business people. As the newspaper forged additional bulk sales arrangements, travelers could find free copies of USA Today in airport club lounges, inside their rental cars, and in all but the most basic hotels.
"It was sort of the business travel ritual," said writer Tim Winship, a former manager of Hilton's frequent guest program who now blogs at frequentflier.com. He said the free newspapers were a popular perk with hotel customers, and he himself often pored over his USA Today for almost an hour as he ate his room-service breakfast. "It was kind of a comforting thing," Winship said.
Not surprisingly, the newspaper ritual became less prevalent as hotels began rolling out another, more modern amenity: high-speed Internet access. In-room broadband connections -- an expensive novelty just a few years ago -- have become standard at virtually all of the nation's chain hotels, and free at many of them. Winship said he now spends mornings on the road reading the news on his laptop computer.
And as for the newspaper outside his door?
"I usually just kick it inside when I go out in the morning," Winship said. "Then, when I come back, I bend over and put it in the trash can."
News 'strapped to my hip'
Surveys have found that the vast majority of business travelers carry laptops, while the use of smart phones (which don't require a hotel Internet connection) has skyrocketed among frequent hotel guests even faster than in the rest of the population. A July study by PhoCusWright, a travel industry research firm, concluded that 75 percent of regular business travelers carry devices such as BlackBerries or iPhones. A separate Pew Research Center report in July found that 38 percent of the general adult population uses mobiles devices to access the Internet.
"When you look at the demographic of business travelers, they are becoming younger," said PhoCusWright research director Carroll Rheem. "They're used to consuming their news from digital media."
A Marriott spokeswoman said she had no immediate information on how many guests pick up free newspapers in hotel lobbies or still request them to be delivered to their rooms. But it's clear that some guests remain loyal to the print editions. On flyertalk.com, a discussion forum for frequent travelers, more than a dozen regular Marriott customers responded positively when I asked, "Do you read your free newspaper"?
"I find them very nice to have and [I'm] lost without 'em," wrote IT consultant Matt Nevans, who said he saves two days' papers to read on his flights home. "It's nice to have something to do on the plane during 'no electronics' time." Another traveler expressed a similar preference for low-tech reading material in a place equally ill-suited for electronics. "I like to start the morning off reading the paper while relaxing in the Jacuzzi," he wrote.
On the other hand, several respondents said they read the complimentary Wall Street Journal when it's available, but not USA Today. And a handful said they refuse all newspapers when they check in to the hotel or ignore them if they're delivered to their room. "The best source for any news is strapped to my hip 80 percent of any waking day," said Los Angeles software engineer Kenneth Crudup.
New digital initiatives
Indeed, as Gannett puts more emphasis on its digital products, its challenge is to create a prominent online destination for all those hip-strapped devices. Deprived of the competitive advantage that comes with being the only newspaper outside a hotel guest's door, USA Today hopes to hold on to its traditional readers by producing mobile content related to travel, aviation, technology, and other subjects. To continue to reach Marriott customers, Gannett has partnered with the lodging company to promote USA Today's iPad app. It also has begun displaying USA Today content on large touch-screens in hotel lobbies.
It's uncertain whether such digital initiatives will help replace USA Today's lost circulation among business travelers. But Carroll Rheem, the travel industry researcher, said hoteliers are likely to embrace technology as a cheaper alternative to the labor intensive practice of distributing dozens of newspapers to guest rooms each morning. Rheem said it's not unimaginable that within a few years, complimentary newspapers may go the way of other once-common hotel amenities, such as free matchbooks and coin-operated vibrating beds.
"Consumers expect to consume news on the road just as they do at home," Rheem said.
USA Today is written like a Communist propaganda cartoon. It contains little information and what it does have only the sports section is even remotely accurate or timely.
I used to subscribe to several newspapers and magazines. Now, none. There’s just no point to it. I can find all the same info online - for free!
I liked it a lot up until a few years ago. Then, it got like the useless (actually worse that useless, damaging with their views and elitism) Cleveland Plain Dealer. That is, I could sit there for an hour reading it, and not know anything I didn't already know.
For now, I’m subscribing to Bloombery Business Week. It’s a little bit quirky and does some things in depth, which is what I like in a magazine.
This is the original image taken by AP photographer Mikhail Metzel during a Senate hearing
This is the image that appeared in the 0/19/2005 USA Today
Only after being caught, did McPaper apologize:
Good riddance to bad rubbish. These people are not "journalists." They are spoiled children who deserve to be unemployed.
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I've noticed more and more patrons doing the same thing. I suspect Bill Marriott has noticed the trend. It's like a tea party in the lobby only more selective.
How about we get someone in Congress to propose a TAX!
A TAX on NEWSPRINT!
Whereas the production of newspapers causes trees to be cut down, hauled by polluting trucks to polluting paper mills, and hauled from paper mills to publishers and
Whereas the production of newspapers requires toxic ink and solvents and energy wasting machinery and
Whereas the distribution of newspapers requires the use of dirty internal combustion engines and
Whereas a large portion of every landfill is used for discarded newspapers,
Be it resolved that a Newsprint tax, of $1,000.00 per pound, be charged to EVERY newspaper with a daily subscription, within the United States!
We should get some Republican to propose THIS as an amendment to any cap and trade or carbon tax proposal that comes up!
Maybe we can make it like Cap and Trade and use the revenue generated, from this tax on dirty dinosaur newspapers, to subsidize a tax credit for home computers and digital devices?
Or, we could use the money to subsidize talk radio! Well, those guys really dont need any help!
When I went to San Diego this summer, the hotel left a USA today at the door each morning; all I did was throw it away. I would have done the same had it been the local paper. I had my laptop and iphone, so why would I want to read a newspaper?
Grampa Dave has been doing this for years. He says the satisfaction from doing it is worth way more than the $0.75.
You can’t give away free government edjamakation now a days.
I’d live in a van down by the river before I’d live in ‘Pubic Housing’.
Government cheese anyone?
NPR has to survive by taxing people that won’t listen to it.
I don’t see why RINO’s, and non RINO’s( Democrats ) won’t taxpayer fund a ‘national newspaper’, you know, to ‘unite us’.
Thank you for posting. Nothing warms my heart more than reading the continuing, slow, painful demise of the peddlers of printed Communist propaganda.
i don't miss the travel or the paper
I travel a lot and I never read them. I just toss them on the bed and leave them. I can’t remember the last time I even opened one up.
Although I am not on the road as in days of yore, I do travel and my Iphone provides a Fox News mobile ap and a Forbes mobile ap. That’s all I need. There is also Free Republic but not yet in a mobile format.
There is a USA ap but who needs or wants it with Fox and Forbes
When I see that on my bill, I will hand the unread papers over to the front desk and tell them to remove the charge. I don't recall having it happen to me. But I don't stay in hotels that much.
“pored over his USA Today for almost an hour as he ate his room-service breakfast”
Slow reader. There’s not that much content in a USA Today paper.
15 minutes TOPS.
I don’t know of any business traveler that doesn’t have a laptop, too. Everything at your fingertips.
Once again, proof of our theory that it never was the content, it was the distribution system that allowed the Dinosaur Media to be dominant for so long.
All gone now.
Same here but I do recall tripping/slipping on the darned things in the hallways of hotels.
Whether these charlatans spread their poison through via dead trees or electronically is not the issue. Sure, I’m glad to see that the lefty newspapers are croaking. But like any other parasite, they’ll simply jump to a new host — in this case, the internet. The object should not be to chase them away, but to eradicate them and their contagion.
I always asked that the cost of the USA Today be deducted from my bill. 9 times out of ten, they’d do it.
I would be content to debate their ideas on an equal footing. In my considered opinion, the reason conservative political theory has not transcended is that the means of communication has been corrupted and owned by the other side for many decades.
“I used to subscribe to several newspapers and magazines. Now, none. Theres just no point to it. I can find all the same info online - for free!”
I hear ya, but I tell you what could happen. In ten years say, when everything is electronic, and America (and the world) doesn’t improve, karma could descend in one or more ways, (major cataclysm wiping out much infrastructure) elctronics wiped out, and presto, no media. Kind of a trick God would pull on humanity, we have to start over.
The employment fear is the way it works of course in many, probably most, organizations, including our political parties, but it is the psychologically control-obsessed, ala Nancy Pelosi, leftist judges, and now our Congress, the Nanny Factor, who perpetrate the ugliest imposition on individual spirit.
It is amazing, absolutely graphic, how this psychology has changed from decades ago in the US where the MO was generally to encourage others in individual initiative and dignity. The current generation has no idea.
Lawyers, citizen demoralization, and possibly overpopulation methinks.
This is all baloney - marketing a lefty newspaper to businesspeople is like trying to sell cat food to parakeets.
Nowadays all the hotels brag about how they are “green” by not washing towels and bedding every day (unless you specifically ask them to).
Meanwhile they are putting a newspaper most people don’t read in front of every room and charging you for it.
I always saw USA Today as the most “unworthy” of national newspapers. When traveling, if it is in front of my hotel-room door in the morning, I always deliver it to the front desk with a request that it not be there the next morning.
Even more fun, check out their classified ads.
Last time I looked, about a year ago in San Antonio, there were only six. Three were placed by escort services and three by "alternative investment" companies. There were absolutely no substantive ads.
And, IIRC, the print ads were just about as dismal. A couple of local restaurants and that was about it.
In fact, except for their usual Marxist claptrap, the newspaper was so beautifully enjoyable that I hated to toss it into the garbage.
Newspaper Rack Graveyard
I don’t often stay in hotels or motels these days. But I can remember when USA Today first started appearing outside my motel room door.
“People will pick it up from in front of their door only because it’s kind of strange just to step over it,”
Au contraire. Even in the early days, after having looked at it once or twice, I didn’t just step over it, I stepped ON it. And left it to the motel folks to clean it up, since they were the ones who dropped it there.
I agaree with you 100% — USA Today was an insult, and aside from that, when I’m on business in another city, I want the LOCAL paper to see what is going on there.
USA Today is written like a Communist propaganda cartoon. It contains little information and what it does have only the sports section is even remotely accurate or timely.
Because of CONTEXT — there’s a lot of incidental detail in a newspaper that isn’t online.
I wish that were true, but I know many business people who ote Dem.
It’s a beautiful thing...
I see I’m not the only who stoops to pick up the paper only to deposit in the trash can unread just inside the door of my hotel room.
pathetic lefty, progressively communist, short sited slime.
Imagine the MSM doing that to a photo of Michelle Obama?/s
The use pof the term "Jacuzzi" marks this as an older demographic; "whirlpool" is the term for the 40 and under set.
Just wondering, it is hateful to wipe the mud off of your boots and then just leave the USAT in the hall? If so, I will consider myself chastised.
Great news to start a Sunday off. They can’t die fast enough.
True, but at this point “elctronics wiped out, and presto, no media” would include paper newspapers. Newsprint starts off electronically today.
“Grampa Dave has been doing this for years. He says the satisfaction from doing it is worth way more than the $0.75.”
In a couple of weeks my wife and I will be celebrating our anniversary at a nice lodge by the ocean. We were there this spring for her birthday.
When I made reservations, I sent an email re comments and personal notes to the lodge, that we didn’t want the USA and deduct from our bill the cost.
I got a reply that I was on their computer with that request, and they would deduct a $ from our bill each day.
A Scot American couldn’t ask for more: A $ back per night for us. Saving trees and carbon re no newspaper/ink and helping to weaken and hopefully drive into bankruptcy, an enemy of America.
I have been pushing for a tax on fishwraps for a long time.
Publishing a fishwrap, delivering it and hauling it away has to be one of the largest use/waste of energy in the world.
The purpose of a news organ isn't to debate. It's to inform. The debate can take place in some other forum.
In my considered opinion, the reason conservative political theory has not transcended is that the means of communication has been corrupted and owned by the other side for many decades.
Absolutely correct. So conservatives sought -- and won -- other venues to disseminate their ideology, much to the dismay and detriment of the old-line media who are only now coming to grasp the slow erosion of their influence.
But as they do, they will use their power, their influence, and their reputations (such as they are) to muscle their way into the "new media." We need to be prepared for the next front in the war, and this is it.
I was in a Marriott last week and noted the non-delivery. It seemed odd, but at least they had a stack of WSJs in the lobby.