By Mark Fleischer
This is our last print issue… in Kroger stores that is. More on that later.
Meanwhile, I am happy to report that StoryBoard Memphis (our print journal) is back from a short break! And what happened? you may be asking.
At the beach for a few months? No. Riding high on paper profits? Not a chance.
We are a year old. Not too bad. In a world that insists that print is dead we managed to show that a good quality print publication can still work. But we are still just that: a year old. We’re young. We’re learning. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do. And despite being wet behind the ears we were producing at a breakneck pace, trying to keep up with some of the other free monthlies out there. And, we did pretty good.
But the wheels were getting worn and the passenger load was getting heavier. So many folks wanted to join this little merry bandwagon that we were doing double-duty keeping up with all the requests and correspondence, and triple duty on the things that made us us, like the words and stories you are reading right now.
We also apparently struck a nerve. We ran out of all copies of our last issue in just two weeks, and our online numbers went thru the roof – our online website visitors for the summer months jumped up over 400%, with more visits in three months than our entire 2-year online visitor history since we launched in 2017.
In short, you like us! You really like us!
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We have a lot of work to do, but it’s a good problem to have, especially in today’s publication world, when print newspapers are either throwing in the towel or exploring creative ways to sustain themselves. Which brings me to the Kroger news.
*Last Issue in Kroger Stores
Unless Kroger makes a huge about-face and reverses course, or faces enough public backlash, this month’s print issue will indeed be the last issue of StoryBoard you’ll be picking up at any of their stores.
In case you hadn’t heard, Kroger is putting an end to free publications in their stores by the middle of October. On Friday August 16 news from Kroger’s corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio reached the publishing world announcing that the chain – with over 2,700 stores nationwide, including Ralph’s and Food 4 Less – would be ending their contract with the distribution company Distributech and removing all free publication racks from their stores. Yes, All.
This is no small hiccup in distribution. In Memphis and Shelby County alone there are easily over 200,000 copies of various free publications available for pickup throughout the month from racks in the fronts of our area Kroger stores. And the move will have ripple effects, from publishing and printing jobs to the drivers who distribute the bundles of papers to each store week to week.
The reason Kroger is making this decision? Teresa Dickerson, corporate affairs manager of Kroger’s Delta division said “We are removing the publication racks from our stores because more publications continue to shift to digital formats, resulting in less customers using the products.”
Really? You’re familiar with the term “killing a dead horse?” This is more like killing a thoroughbred when he’s still in the clubhouse turn. This doesn’t even give us a chance to finish the race.
We call baloney anyway. I see firsthand the distribution of all the free publications city-wide, I do not know of any that do not see widespread pickups, and our own local distributor sees an over-90% pickup rate of all free publications in all Kroger stores. And in a city where half the population still does not have easy access to internet services, free news is not a luxury, it’s an essential service. If you are just now learning of this news as you read this, then it proves my point: thousands still read their news exclusively in free print.
A publisher friend of mine lamented that “We are after all guests in their stores. What’ya gonna do?”
Sure, we were guests. However there is such a thing as a social contract, and a moral commitment to the neighborhood. The maintenance and loading of the racks came at no costs to Kroger, and pulling an essential, free resource away from their customers displays zero commitment to the neighborhood. It smacks of greed – free space does not generate any revenue for the store – no different than charging customers 50 cents or more for cash back on purchases, which Kroger began implementing this summer.
As for StoryBoard, we stand arm in arm with our fellow free publications around town, and like them we are pursuing other grocers and businesses around town who do have strong commitments to serving their neighborhoods. We will also be doubling up on our distribution to other businesses and institutions with a commitment to the neighborhood – the Memphis Public Libraries, community centers, independent grocers, etc. – and to any other large or small place of business.
We will be adding more racks and boxes around town as well. Look for us. We will be out there in the neighborhood delivering news, stories and resources, free to those who need it, and in print. We believe in Memphis, and we are committed to being good neighbors.
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The Neighborhoods Issue
We’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time – a focus on neighborhoods.
And boy have we! (the print version is now out and around town)
From personal stories and submissions from neighborhoods all over the city, we have put together quite a collection of neighborhood stories, including a handful of John Dulaney’s National Register neighborhoods, the story of the Boxtown neighborhood from a partnership with the University of Memphis, and personal neighborhood stories from our summer StoryBoard Page One Writers Workshop and ‘graduates’ Ken Billett, Ron Buck, Candace Echols, Kelly King Howe, and Mark Scott. Their stories are wonderful.
In discussing neighborhoods this summer and in exploring neighborhood issues, we also published articles and essays on a theme that emerged: that of walkability.
Seems that healthy neighborhoods are also very walkable. And our now-frequent contributor Dane Forlines gives us his take on what he means when he talks about walkability. Also, our friend Sheree Stubblefield from Cooper-Young and the Lamplighter shares why she loves her neighborhood, and it may just have something to do with, you guessed it, walkability.
And speaking of the LampLighter, we at StoryBoard are trying a little CY partnership on for size to help their publication continue to look for healthy sustainability. The LampLighter is a Cooper-Young staple, and we will be doing our part to help keep it going. (Look for their signature masthead on page 11 of the print issue). And, pick up the LampLighter next time you see it!
We hope you enjoy the Neighborhood issue. There’s a lot of heart – and neighborly commitment – in this one.
~Mark Fleischer, Publisher