Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Three Things are Killing Russian Newspapers – And They Aren’t the Usual Suspects

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Many people assume that newspapers are dying because television and the Internet have reduced their audience, the costs of newsprint and journalists keep going up, and the state isn’t trying to drive them out of business, Maksim Bakulev writes. But in fact, these “usual suspects” are proving lesser threats than three others.

            In a commentary for Irkutsk’s Babr news agency, the journalist says that the biggest threats come from the collapse of the subscription system that existed in Soviet times, the failure of advertisers to understand that they mustn’t dictate content, and rising prices driven not by the costs of preparing the papers but by the greed of distributors (

            The distribution system, he says, typically charges three times as much for a paper at a kiosk than it cost to produce and is both a monopoly in most cities – Irkutsk is lucky in that it has four different distribution companies – and a criminal activity because distributors don’t report their incomes and pay taxes on it.

            Indeed, Bakulev says, his observations suggest, gaining control of a distribution network provides higher and safer returns even than selling illegal drugs or guns.  One needn’t worry about the police, one can lie about how much money one has collected, and those who want to buy newspapers provide a ready supply of money, albeit one that will end if the papers do.

            The government has failed to address the problem of “distributor sharks,” something it could easily do by more frequent inspections and by allowing a variety of outlets to sell newspapers. If the authorities don’t do that, “the papers will die and the population will remain one-one-one with TV’s First Channel.”  That is Russia in the 21st century, he says.

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