The OC launches a newspaper war in the LBC

Aaron Kushner's Orange County Register starts a daily Long Beach edition

Aaron Kushner, the newspaper industry’s almost impossibly contrarian would-be savior, is launching a newspaper war with the MediaNews-owned Press-Telegram in Long Beach.

Kushner is expanding his Orange County Register empire with a daily 16-page-plus Long Beach Register to be included with the mother paper. He’s even snagged a former Press-Telegram publisher to run the new edition.

A big part of Kushner’s strategy with the Register has been significantly improving the two dozen or so community newspapers it publishes as zoned inserts in the main paper. The Register has already converted a weekly in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa into a weekday daily, and its doing the same with Irvine’s semiweekly later this month. The paper has at least doubled news staff on the other weeklies and has vastly upgraded their newsholes, color pages, graphics, and photos.

The OC Register only has 2,600 existing subscribers in Long Beach, and it would seem to face long odds to take much of the Press-Telegram’s 70,000-plus daily circulation. But the Long Beach paper, like most others, has withered in recent years, and in New Orleans, The Advocate has shown how quickly an upstart can snap up readers of a weakened monopoly.

Kushner’s strategy appears to be to persuade Long Beach readers that they can get their local news plus a strong regional paper from him rather than subscribing to a gutted local paper from John Paton.

They’ll have to pay for it: The Register charges $30 a month for seven-day delivery (though the paper hasn’t announced what it will charge in Long Beach). The Press-Telegram charges $15a month. But a Register subscription comes with membership-style benefits like free Angels tickets.

The Long Beach move fits neatly into Kushner’s theory idea that papers have bled themselves to death over the last several years by dramatically reducing the quality and quantity of the product they sell to readers. Give them more, charge them for it, and readers will come around—and possibly even advertisers.

The former greeting-cards magnate has doubled the size of the OC Register newsroom and put money in print, vastly increasing the page count, color and photos in every edition, and even improving the actual paperstock on which it’s printed—an astonishing investment at a time when papers have been all but left for dead.

When I wrote about the Orange County Register for the May issue of CJR, I called Kushner’s plan “the most interesting—and important—experiment in journalism right now.”

Whether readers pay up for the vastly superior Register in Long Beach or stick with the cheaper, inferior Press-Telegram will go a long way toward telling us the long-term viability of Kushner’s grand experiment.

Further reading:

An ink-stained stretch. Can Aaron Kushner save the Orange County Register—and the newspaper industry?

The battle of New Orleans. Is Advance Publications securing the future of local news—or needlessly sacrificing it?

The Louisiana newspaper war. The Advocate picks up 23,500 readers in less than three months in New Orleans.

The Advocate raids the Picayune. Major defections from the New Orleans paper intensify a newspaper war.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,