Monday, October 12, 2009

Maybe We Should Give David Hunke the Nobel Prize in Economics

USA Today Publisher Has His Crystal Ball Working Overtime

So USA Today, that erstwhile companion outside your hotel-room door -- indeed, it was waiting for me this morning at the Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead, N.Y. -- will be chastened when the newest FAS-FAX numbers will show its circulation plunged 17 percent.
In other words, it's behaving like just about every other American newspaper, er, newspaper in the USA.
But USA Today publisher David Hunke, in the glass-is-half-full style that was once the hallmark of the paper, told his troops: fear not.

Before this year, our largest circulation declines came after the attacks of September 11th in 2001. And when the travel industry rebounded in the months that followed, USA TODAY did, too. We fully expect to see circulation increases again as the economy recovers. I'm encouraged by the fact that despite the tough travel economy, we have not lost a single hotel relationship during this recession.

I realize it's Hunke's job to say such things. Nonetheless, let's get real. Even if the economy rebounds, I suspect that hotels will take a closer look at just how many copies are being ordered. Instead of blithely dropping them in front of every occupied room, you will see a greater trend toward having them in the lobby, where people can grab them to pore over breakfast or on the way out the door.
Second, Hunke may be confusing crowded planes with increased business travel, his bread and butter. Planes are more crowded only because there are fewer of them. There are still plenty of rooms to be had at hotels.
Finally, Hunke has a more-aggressive rival for the hearts and minds of travelers: The Wall Street Journal. It makes a big deal of telling guests at Marriott properties they can choose the Journal as the paper they get in the morning.
In other words, while it's reasonable to expect USA Today can get back some of the 400,000 copies it no longer has to print. And it sure is swell that they can be found in 22,000 hotels. But there's a new paradigm out there, for the hotel business as well as the newspaper business. They both suffer from the same malady: there just aren't as many people who want or need their product as there used to be. And that's not likely to change anytime soon, if ever.

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