Democrat-Gazette ending weekday delivery; last papers to go on porches today

Press operator Chris Gregory checks a copy of today’s Style section Friday during the early press run for today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Photos and video from the overnight press run are at

Press operator Chris Gregory checks a copy of today’s Style section Friday during the early press run for today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Photos and video from the overnight press run are at

Home delivery of the Monday-Saturday editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ends today, as the newspaper completes its transition to a digital replica.

About 3,000 subscribers in the Chenal and Pleasant Valley and Leawood areas of west Little Rock are the last to receive daily home delivery, said Larry Graham, the newspaper's vice president for circulation.

Print, though, won't be dead.

Sunday home delivery will continue for subscribers who've signed up for the digital conversion, many of them through the Democrat-Gazette's offer of a free iPad that they may keep as long as they continue to subscribe. About 78% of subscribers statewide have signed up, at a monthly rate of about $35.

That campaign has been running for two years, with publisher Walter Hussman Jr. pitching the idea to civic club luncheons and other gatherings as the only solution to sustaining the newspaper and coverage of the state.

"We can't just lose money year after year, and that's the way it's going," Hussman said in a lengthy article about his experiment published online earlier this month by the Northwestern/Medill Local News Initiative. "And I tell them, look, we might still be able to deliver a print edition to you but it's not the kind of paper you're going to want to read, it's not the kind of paper I'm going to want to publish. It's going to have a whole lot less news in it. It's going to have a whole lot fewer reporters and editors covering things. There's no future in that. That's what a lot of newspapers are doing, but in my opinion, there's no future in that."

[Gallery not showing up above? Click here for more photos »]

Hussman often has noted the historic importance of newspapers in the state's development and, last November, hosted a gala in Little Rock to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Arkansas Gazette. The Gazette and the Democrat were engaged in a contentious and costly newspaper war throughout the 1980s, until the publicly traded Gannett Co. closed the Gazette on Oct. 18, 1991, and sold its assets to Hussman. The Democrat-Gazette appeared the next day.

The Democrat-Gazette's press, on Byrd Street, just east of downtown, also will continue printing weekday and weekend editions that will be delivered for single-copy sales at convenience stores and grocery stores and from the relatively few remaining newspaper boxes. Most of those boxes have been taken off the streets as single-copy prices have risen.

"You don't find many people with $3 in quarters in their pockets," Graham said, referring to the cost of a Sunday newspaper and the coin-only boxes.

The retail circulation of papers will continue "as long as it's profitable and if people keep buying papers," Graham said.

None of this affects the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its circulation in 12 counties, although the print-to-digital conversion is being tested in the Harrison and Fort Smith areas.

The Democrat-Gazette's effort in the digital conversion began two years ago in Mississippi County, with a $200,000 investment in iPads that cost about $800 each.

Through trial-and-error, newspaper executives found more interest among potential subscribers in the digital replica if delivery of the Sunday newspaper could be continued. The newspaper also found that smaller iPads that cost about $330 were more practical for the digital version than the larger, more unwieldy ones.

Hussman also invested in a sales-and-technicians staff to help teach new subscribers to use the iPads, often in one-on-one sessions, and even in the subscribers' homes if necessary.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch:]

Some 27,000 iPads have been distributed, at a cost of about $11 million.

The total Sunday press run will be about 51,000 copies, with about 33,000 slotted for digital subscribers and the rest for retail single-copy sales.

The press run for Monday-Saturday editions will be about 4,300 for single-copy sales, mostly in Pulaski County.

The phase-out of most of the delivery also will bring savings of $8,000 a month with the closing of a warehouse on Colonel Glenn Road in west Little Rock that served as a distribution point for some carriers, Graham said.

"I've been here since 1980. We spent years building a statewide circulation and now we're having to go back and undo that," Graham said, calling the experience an end of an era and as exciting as it is unsettling.

Graham wanted to pay tribute to the many carriers who distributed the Arkansas Gazette, the Arkansas Democrat and, since Oct. 19, 1991, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "We have carriers and drivers who get up at 1 in the morning to do their work, and some of them have been doing it for 20 or 30 years. Their lives are going to change next week."

Carriers are independent contractors and, for nearly all of them, delivering the newspaper wasn't their only job.

The first home delivery of an Arkansas newspaper, outside of the newspaper's home city, may have happened in 1823, according to Margaret Ross' book Arkansas Gazette: The Early Years (1819-1866).

There was no telegraph, nor were there trains in 1823 Arkansas, which was still 13 years away from statehood. The Gazette itself wasn't quite 4 years old.

Mail service was erratic, at best, often slow in delivering news from outside the state, resulting in frequent delays in the newspaper's publication.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Press operators Dewayne Crenshaw (left) and Chris Gregory check the pages of today’s Style section Friday during the early press run for the last day of Monday-Saturday home deliveries of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 01/25/2020

Upcoming Events