I may be ending one of the longest relationships of my life. It pains me to say this, but the other party in the relationship hasn’t been loyal and they are taking the easy way out. It is not my wife or other family member. It is not a friend or client or someone I work with. It is a customer relationship with our local daily newspaper. I’ve read The Kansas City Star since about the third grade. At this moment I am not a subscriber, and I’m not sure I ever will be again. And lack of innovation and strategic thinking is playing a big role in ending this customer relationship.

I put up with it when the paper declined in size and quality--and the price remained the same. I put up with it when they couldn’t find my house for three weeks in the fall of 2009. I put up with getting a successful delivery about six days out of seven since then.

What I am not sure I can put up with is their roving eye. Shortly after I received my annual renewal notice, I got an offer in the mail to subscribe for about half of what I had been paying. When a Star subscription rep called to see if I was going to renew, I said I would like that much lower price. “No,” she said, "that offer is only good for new subscribers.”

Apparently our relationship isn’t as important to The Star as it is to me. They are looking for someone new and they are willing to do things for them that they won’t do for me. And to think, a little innovation and more strategic, rather than tactical, thinking might have saved this customer relationship.

Newspapers face enormous business model issues. Easy, short-term, tactical thinking, e.g. cut prices for new subscribers, isn’t going to solve the problem. It is going to make their current customer base mad and put that at risk.

We see this response in lots of businesses that have enjoyed monopoly or duopoly market positions that have been undercut by changes in technology or regulation or in consumer preference. Think cable TV or cell phones.

It could be the printed daily newspapers can’t be saved. Maybe they are like carriage makers at the dawn of the 20th century, about to be overwhelmed by the automobile. But The Star has produced a highly valued and highly profitable product for more than 125 years. Cutting quality, cutting service, and cutting relationships is a way to guarantee they will be the 21st century’s carriage makers. - Barrett Sydnor

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