Friday, March 16, 2007


Another good ol' newspaper war is about to get started, and it will likely be fought in Nixans' mailboxes. But instead of paper vs. paper, the Mailbox thinks this war will be fought between newspapers and readers.

Having worked in Christian County, the Mailbox is fascinated with media coverage of Missouri's fastest-growing county. Christian County has always been a tough nut to crack, media-wise. Circulation numbers for both companies have always been much lower than they should be, given that the county's population is growing like kudzu. However, all that unserved readership is too tempting for Gannett and Community Publishers, Inc. to leave on the table.

CPI already made its move to claim its share. The company felt a weekly newspaper was unsuccessful for Nixa, so it replaced the Nixa News-Enterprise with the Nixa Xpress. It's a weekly tabular publication delivered free to every Nixa resident's mailbox. The switch inflated circulation numbers, facilitating the advertising value. The Christian County Headliner News, long perceived by Nixans as an Ozark paper, became Nixa's "newspaper" by default.

Next month, Gannett will make its move: The News-Leader should be releasing a news product specific to Christian County. Already, it's editor, Chad Hunter, has been making the rounds, getting it started and covering county news. It will also be some sort of free publication. If it succeeds, its business plan will become a blueprint for publications for other suburban markets, such as Marshfield and Bolivar (where CPI has more-established publications).

The N-L's Christian County pub will no doubt use a multimedia approach. The Mailbox hears that all N-L reporters will be armed with videocameras as of April 1, so that they can file audio and video stories as well as news stories. Ads will be sold on the basis of appearing in several of the N-L's slew of spin-offs. However, the pub won't have any of its own reporters -- Hunter will have to rely on a staff that has assignments for other pubs.

CPI's likely response to the new competitor will be to blanket the area with samples. The Mailbox hasn't seen any marketing of either of its products, and likely won't. However, marketing the Headliner to Nixa is a wasted effort, since the Headliner doesn't have any Nixa news that isn't in the Xpress.

However, the real competition isn't between CPI and Gannett, as much as it is an experiment to see exactly what kind of publication that will get Christian County's attention. Will it be a traditional weekly newspaper, an alternative-style free pub or the who-knows-what backed by the 800 lb. gorilla? Gannett has the clear advantage, because it won't be afraid to throw a big initial investment into the market. CPI has always been timid about placing its names anywhere other than a newspaper, so the Mailbox thinks Gannett will win this battle by attrition.

That stinks, because the Mailbox has a soft spot in its heart for the Headliner. As for the Xpress: It isn't worth the paper it's printed on until it does 15 questions with Reba Pfander and gets the cereal off of its front page.

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Hi, I'm a bridge. Would you mind burning me? Really, you already did that? Crazy.

Smooth move, Brees wannabe.

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