The University last week became one of many across the country to embark on a trial of the Gannett sponsored Collegiate Readership Program. A May 2000 Gannett press release said of the program, “The Newspaper Readership Program brought together the newspaper and education worlds to encourage newspaper readership and sales.” The program works like this: For the duration of the trial period, Gannett pays for copies of USA Today, The New York Times and the Detroit Free Press to be made available to students free of charge at various distribution sites on campus. If the program is popular by the end of the trial period, scheduled to terminate on Nov. 26, the University will continue to subscribe to it, but either the University administration or the Michigan Student Assembly will have to pay for the papers. Regardless of which budget the money comes from, students will be footing the bill either through a student fee hike or through MSA funding, which is already taken from student fees.
Gannett is one of the largest media corporations in the United States. The corporation’s website explains the Collegiate Readership Program in terms of encouraging newspaper sales and readership, but students should consider whether readership is really one of the issues Gannett is seeking to pursue. While greater dissemination of information would benefit University students and the greater population at large, students should be wary of Gannett’s true intentions. If the University ends up subscribing to the readership program, there is a potential for adverse effects on local and independent media.
Gannett’s program is an example of a common strategy of corporate America to boost the bottom line: A national or multinational company will move into a locale where it is able to drop its own prices low enough to drive the local competition out of business. The business can take a loss in their own profits in the locale by compensating with profits from their other branches around the country. Once the local competitors are driven out, the bigger corporation can jack its own prices back up.
If Gannett succeeds in selling its readership program to the University, it has the potential of having a similar impact on local and independent media. Papers like the Ann Arbor News and the Metro Times could suffer a loss in advertising revenue as local vendors take advantage of purchasing their ad space in the papers that students get for free. And in real terms, this means reduced dissemination of information as the readership program takes over the student market for newspapers.
While newspapers of all kinds should be readily available to students, there is no reason to assume Gannett has students’ best interests at heart; the Newspaper Readership Program looks suspiciously like a corporate money-making scheme.