Effective Monday, SaltWire is discontinuing home delivery in rural areas in northern Nova Scotia.
SaltWire has not responded to a request for comment, but the Halifax Examiner has been contacted by several readers in the northern stretch of the province who have been sent the notice pictured above. It’s not clear from the notice how many readers are affected, or how far the change in service extends.
“More and more, our readers are looking for news and information wherever and whenever they want it (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), which means that our mobile apps, Saltwire.com and the E-edition replica newspapers have outpaced demand for the printed newspaper,” reads the notice.
Undoubtedly. And undoubtedly increasing fuel costs are making it very expensive to deliver a daily newspaper, especially in sparsely populated rural areas. The Halifax Examiner recognized the cost burdens of printing and distributing a printed edition at its inception, and so has been web-only from the start.
But SaltWire has many older customers who live in rural areas who tell us they have more of an attachment to the printed newspaper than do their younger relatives. They like holding the paper. They like the leisurely read. They like doing the crosswords.
Additionally, in 2003, the Chronicle Herald purchased a state-of-the-art Wifag printing press, reportedly with an $18 million loan. In 2014, that printing press was retrofitted, at an undisclosed cost. SaltWire’s extensive flyer business seems in part designed to bringing in revenue that keeps that machine running and paying down the debt for it.
But at the same time, SaltWire is reducing the number of newspapers printed by the plant. The company recently ended Monday print editions of its papers, and now comes the reduction of rural delivery for the other days of the week. It’s hard to see how such reductions benefit the financing of the printing press.
The company has tried to keep printing costs low by, for example, in 2015 locking out 13 printing press employees until they agreed to accept reduced retirement benefits.
SaltWire employees tell me privately that morale at the company never recovered after the 19-month strike in 2016 and 2017, and employee turnover is at an all-time high. The company has offered buyouts of long-term employees, capped at 26 weeks’ pay, but I don’t know how many, if any, are taking the offer.
“Everyone’s mental health is in the toilet,” one employee tells me.
“This delivery change enables us to focus our efforts to provide more quality journalism,” reads the notice to subscribers.
The notice says those whose home delivery is ending can subscribe to the web editions of the papers at a cost of $15/month (this morning, there’s a “flash sale” offer of $10/month for the first year), less than half the cost of home delivery.
One subscriber tells the Examiner that they prepaid $100 for a print subscription. They asked when they would be refunded the money, and SaltWire said a refund cheque would be mailed to them in four weeks.