Gannett Targets Nashville Scene

New Free Weekly Paper Spun-Off From Local Daily's Weekend Section.

In November 1996, Nashville Scene Publisher Albie Del Favero sent a letter to dozens of local advertisers accusing the local Gannett daily of anti-competitive practices. Along with each letter, Del Favero enclosed a copy of “The Chain Gang: One Newspaper vs. The Gannett Empire,” which he described as a book that exposes “the voracious corporate greed that inspired fraud, price-fixing, and several allegations of anti-trust violations by Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain and owner of The Tennessean.”

Despite Gannett’s cut-throat tactics, the Scene thrived and prospered. (The same can’t be said for The Tennessean’s daily paper competition, the Nashville Banner, which folded last February.) But that hasn’t stopped Gannett from targeting the Scene for destruction.

In mid-January, the Arlington, Virginia-based media conglomerate introduced OnNashville, a free weekly paper designed to compete directly with the Scene. The new publication is an A&E spin-off of the daily’s weekend section as well as a namesake of the local Gannett web site.

Gannett distributes 25,000 copies of OnNashville via freestanding newsracks every Wednesday–the same day the Scene hits the streets. Meanwhile, the weekend section continues to run as part of The Tennessean’s Thursday edition.

According to Del Favero, OnNashville and the weekend section share “90 percent” of the same editorial product.

“It’s the same damn product. They know their readership among 18- to 34-year-olds is woeful,” he says. “[By making OnNashville a free weekly publication] they’re trying to convince the longtime advertisers buying us that they can deliver this audience better than we can.

“They’re market share pigs. Although we’re a pimple on their butt, they can’t stand to see anybody capture the market share they can’t get.” (According to Del Favero, Gannett also owns a boatload of weekly papers in the Nashville area and controls roughly 85 percent of the local print market.)

Del Favero’s claim about the sorry state of The Tennessean’s demographics is supported by the daily newspaper industry’s own figures. For instance, according to a 1998 study conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, only 36 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds regularly read a daily paper, compared to 70 percent of people age 65 and older.

In Nashville, Gannett isn’t shy about identifying its enemy. The Scene is named several times in the new OnNashville marketing materials: “The Tennessean reaches almost twice the number of 18-34 years delivered by the Nashville Scene. [The daily paper] reaches more than twice the number of singles and married couples delivered by the Nashville Scene. No matter how you compare the numbers, The Tennessean brings you a larger part of the market. If you advertise in the Nashville Scene, you miss over one-quarter million Tennessean customers.”

“It’s the greatest sales piece ever done for us,” says Del Favero.

In order to advertise in Gannett’s new free weekly, local businesses must first buy an ad in either The Tennessean’s 180,000-circulation weekday paper or the 300,000-circulation Sunday edition, according to Del Favero. Placement in OnNashville is provided as a bonus.

“The Tennessean doesn’t sell OnNashville separately,” he says. “If you look at the numbers–$14 a column inch or $1,764 a page–no small advertiser can afford the daily. They’re trying to go after the larger advertisers.”

Calls to The Tennessean seeking comment were not returned.

“[The free weekly paper was started because] we’re kicking their asses,” says Del Favero. I think Gannett is also doing it to build equity in their OnNashville brand and in hopes of converting OnNashville readers into Tennessean subscribers. They figure if they do this for awhile, they’ll get more 18- to 34-year-olds to read their paper.”

Despite Gannett’s deep pockets and history of crushing the little guy, the AAN contingent in Nashville is far from glum. After all, after publishing for three months, the city’s new free weekly is hardly what one would consider required reading.

“OnNashville doesn’t get picked up,” says Del Favero. “Nobody reads it.”