What is going on? “Free” not free anymore?

7 Aug

Are your favorite publications missing from the familiar places you typically find them each week/month? Curious why?

STL Distribution, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lee Enterprises, an Iowa based media company, is resorting to a predatory distribution scheme that has the potential to devastate free local publications in our community. STL Distribution (STLD)  distributes The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Suburban Journals, and several free niche publications such as The Ladue News, Feast Magazine, Rides Magazine, and Your Next Home Magazine.

Representatives of STLD are aggressively pushing a contractual agreement with proprietors of all business persuasions throughout the City to accept payment in exchange for installing new magazine racks, which they will in turn maintain and control. When a business owner accepts their contract, they are in turn giving STLD the exclusive right to maintain and control which publications are included in the racks and are granting STLD permission to assess a fee of their choosing to any non Lee Enterprises owned publication.

The STLD contract we obtained indicates the following….

“Retailer agrees that the Rack will be exclusive and that Retailer will not allow any other racks or displays for the dissemination of free newspapers or any other type of free publication in any Location identified in the agreement. Retailer agrees that STLD will have sole discretion as to which publications are allowed to be placed in the Rack.”

This scheme was proposed to business owners as recently as the week of August 5th, 2011.
Contract from STL Distribution to Retailers
Example of proposed Racks

An inside source from the distribution industry, who wishes to remain anonymous, refers to this practice as a “deceptive, hale mary attempt to control or weaken the distribution and advertising margins of free weekly and monthly publications and to deter new competition from emerging.” He adds, “In most cases, business owners are not aware of what they are agreeing to, but by the time they realize it, the damage to the other publications is already done.” Circulation is drastically decreased as competing racks are removed along with all product not under the control of STLD, which may choose to distribute only Lee Enterprises owned publications. The advertising margins of those publications could be drastically weakened if business owners opt to allocate their marketing dollars for the publications that are readily available in their own establishments.

In St. Louis, this distribution scheme could impact Town & Style, ALIVE, Sauce Magazine, Vital Voice, The Healthy Planet, R3 St. Louis, Auto Source, Gateway Gardener all of which are members of the STL Indie Publications Alliance (STLIndiePA). Additionally, it could affect The West End Word, Kirkwood-Webster Times, Spiritseeker, Pathfinder, Eleven Magazine, Delux, Avid, and weekly publication The Riverfront Times (owned by Village Voice Media). This plan does not affect publications like the STL Post-Dispatch or Suburban Journals, which are offered at cost to readers and distributed through different means.

In light of all of this information, the St. Louis Independent Publications Alliance  was formed to help keep the local publishing voice strong and accessible. We are reaching out to the public for support to prevent this scheme from taking a hold on our market place and preventing the free distribution of information that is afforded to all publishers and media groups by the First Amendment. Make no mistake, members of this alliance are not threatened by the presence of Lee owned competition, which has the same right to distribute news and information. We simply want to equitably coexist, to pursue our passions, to make a living, contribute to the growth of our areas and to share our content with the public without gross interference on the part of Lee Enterprises and the free publications the company owns and distributes.

It’s clear to us that independent distribution is under attack on various fronts. News of the rack scheme comes just months after independent distributors and publishers received word from business owners that magazines and free newspapers were being stolen from locales within hours of their distribution schedule. While, at this time, it’s unclear who is behind the missing publications, the situation is currently being investigated. Some publishers in the alliance reached out to their respective distribution points directly to help curtail this practice and to keep business owners aware of the ways in which their magazines – many of which they advertise in and desire to provide to their customer base – were being mishandled. This practice of taking other entities publications is not only unethical, it is illegal.

We urge business owners, loyal readers & advertisers of the publications referenced above to reject these practices and to voice concern to Lee Enterprises, STL Distribution and those niche weekly and monthly magazines that stand to benefit the most from this scheme. Additionally, we ask for your support. Go here to Support. We urge those that are equally offended to help us spread the word via social networks and through conversations with friends & family members.

Lee Enterprises properties/publications that stand to gain from this scheme:

STL Distribution
The Ladue News
Feast Magazine
Rides Magazine
Your Next Home
GO!
to name a few…

_________

For reference on similar distribution schemes implemented by media conglomerates and to learn how it has impacted other business owners and the long term viability of independent publications, please visit the following links.

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/evening-post-publishing-seeks-to-monopolize-newspaper-distribution/Content?oid=1110991

http://www.altweeklies.com/aan/gannett-creates-free-paper-distribution-company-in-greenville/Article?oid=145972

http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/goliath.php

About LE Financial Crisis – Lee Enterprises faces delisting from the New York Stock Exchange for the second time, with it’s current stock price hovering near its 52 week low at .71 per share (Aug. 7, 11). According to The Riverfront Times, Lee is saddled with roughly $1 billion in debt — which comes due in April 2012. And shares have tumbled from $35 per share in 2007 to less than a dollar. The company had announced plans to refinance its debt by selling junk bonds earlier this year, but it canceled the deal in May when it became clear there weren’t enough buyers willing to invest. See RFT  for complete story.

Our Twitter handle is @STLIndiePA

Thank you for your support.

Members of the STLIndiePA


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4 Responses to “What is going on? “Free” not free anymore?”

  1. Joan Kiburz August 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    What became of free enterprise????

  2. Mo Costello August 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    As a long time (19 yrs) business owner, I was suspicious when approached by a STL Distribution rep. My suspicion quickly turned to anger as I realized the intent was to put up some mag racks and pay me a stipend to essentially greatly limit access to independent publications for my customers. I chased him out, pronto.
    I have posted my experience on our facebook page and intend to continue to criticize STL Distribution tactics.
    Long Live Indies!

  3. William August 29, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    I was holding off canceling my daily Post-Dispatch subscription. But this is the tipping point.

    I urge all PD subscribers to cancel and cite STLD as the reason why.

  4. Steve S September 11, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    Enough with corporate takeovers squashing the independent voices! Does anyone really want Lee Enterprises dictating what we read? Long live the Indie Publications!

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