Saturday, June 7, 2008

The `Village Voice' Alternative Media Monopoly's Hidden History--Part 4

(Most of the following article originally appeared in the October 9, 1996 issue of Downtown/Aquarian Weekly. See below for parts 1-3.)

Its lack of hipness, however, did enable the Voice to suddenly attract a large group of culturally-straight New York Times junkies, who were desperate to read any newspaper, after Manhattan’s newspaper strike began on December 7, 1962. By the time the strike ended on April 1, 1963, the Voice’s weekly circulation had jumped from 17,000 to 40,000, it had begun to corner the West Village and Lower East Side market for printing classified ads, and it was on its way to becoming a big money-making machine for its owners—especially since it wasn’t very generous about paying much money to its regular writers. And as U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam escalated during the 1960s—thus creating a much larger antiwar, counter-cultural market for alternative antiwar newspapers—the Voice’s circulation jumped from 41,000 in 1965 to 138,000 in 1969.

After 1969, however, the number of Voice readers failed to increase very much, although its classified ad printing business guaranteed [until the impact of Craig’s list was felt] that it always remained profitable—even when its editorial contents didn’t excite many West Village and Lower East Side residents in Manhattan.

An additional reason the Voice’s circulation increased during the 1960s was that it apparently was helped by the Establishment-oriented Hearst media conglomerate. As The Great American Newspaper revealed, “Dick Deems, an officer in the Hearst publishing organization…eventually interceded on the paper’s behalf when it was having distributor problems” and “when that happened, the Voice got on more newsstands everywhere, which boosted its growth.” Not surprisingly, the Voice was never very eager to publish many exposes’ of the Hearst Dynasty’s media conglomerate.

By 1968, about 18 percent of the Voice’s income was coming from its classified ad sales and about 62 percent from its display ad sales—which sold for about $1,100 per full-page in 1960s money. The number of ad inches printed per issue during the Viet Nam War Era rose from about 1,200 in 1965 to about 3,300 in 1970, as the war escalated. Like the New York Times, about two-thirds of the newspaper was devoted to publishing commercial ads, although the Voice still claimed to be a counter-cultural publication.

Yet despite its many ads and post-1962 newspaper strike profitability, the Voice’s owners did not begin distributing it for free until the late 1990s and, instead increased its newsstand price to 15 cents in 1966 money in May 1966. By 1969, Voice owners were making a profit that exceeded $260,000 per year in 1960s money from their originally money-losing weekly newspaper.

(Downtown/Aquarian Weekly 10/9/96)

Next: The Village Voice Alternative Media Monopoly’s Hidden History—Part 5