If the Los Angeles Times goes out of business, don’t shoot the messenger!

The copy of the Los Angeles Times that floated to my doorstep this morning was 56 pages, total. This includes the front, business, sports and “Calendar” (entertainment) sections.

What it doesn’t include is a blow-in advertisement supplement that’s been a Tuesday tradition.

And I think I may have something to do with that.

About a month ago, I looked in my local (less than a mile away) Ralphs supermarket; they were offering some pretty good prices on a couple of items I liked. When I got to the store, much higher prices were marked on the aisles — unusual, as the sale prices are usually displayed.

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Several days later, I came with the ad in hand, and showed it to one of the clerks. She seemed surprised and puzzled — yes, the ad was for the current week — and took it to the manager. He said it had nothing to do with his store; but, to his credit, honored those prices anyway.

I then emailed Ralphs, who called me back a few days later.

I explained that while the top third or so of the ad promoted a new store opening in the San Fernando Valley (quite some distance from me), there was no indications that the prices were for that store only. And if they were, why would the ad be distributed in Hollywood?

The customer service person had no answer, but said she’d pass along the information.

Next week, the prices in the supplement were the same as those in my store.

Last week, the top of the ad also promoted the store; and, again, the advertised prices didn’t match those in my store.

It took me a while — two weeks — but at last, and with a little help, I figured it out.

I’m the only person in my apartment building who subscribes to The Times. I have no idea why I do, these days, other than inertia; but that’s subject for another, and continuing, discussion.

The ads — for Ralphs and a number of other companies, including supermarkets, car tune-up places and so on — are packaged by a company called RedPlum. They’re organized to the degree that those of us who don’t get their ads in the paper, get them in the mail. And vice-versa; I don’t get ’em in the mail.

Last week, when I got the second “wrong” ad, I looked at a copy someone had received in the mail and thrown away. It was for Ralphs, but a different ad, and one not featuring the Studio City location. I took it to the store, and the sale prices matched.

Clearly, the wrong edition of the RedPlum/Ralphs supplement was being inserted in my copy of the Times. Could I be only my copy? It seems so, in that the store manager and the customer service person had seemed so surprised when I brought it to their attention the first week. Could I be the only person in a fairly wide area who (a) subscribes to The Times and (b) pays any attention to ads for the biggest supermarket chain in Southern California? Evidently so. I mentioned as much to the Ralphs customer service person.

In the same paper, in the RedPlum folder, was a single sheet ad for the package. It read, in part:

Look in your mailbox for RedPlum savings. Plan your shopping list with the circulars inside and come ready to save. See what’s on sale that these grocery stores: Ralphs, Albertsons, Smart & Final, Pavilions, Food4Less…

Effective August 4, these circulars will be delivered primarily by mail. The following newspapers will also include the RedPlum package:

…and then it lists nine regional papers, none of which are The Los Angeles Times.

Today came the condensed paper; no RedPlum insert. There was one, however, in my mailbox.

Did Ralphs decide that the wrongly distributed ad was not only not worth what they paid too have it distributed, but bad for the company’s image with customers?

They wouldn’t tell me, of course.

But I do know that The Times has suffered the loss of such out-of-business grocery chains as Lucky, Hughes, Mayfair, and Safeway; and department stores the Broadway, May Company, Buffums, Robinson’s, Montgomery Ward, and he like; home electronic stores Good Guys and Circuit City (also Pacific Stereo, University Stereo and such relics of the ’70s). Then there’s the classified advertising they’ve lost to the Internet.

They really could use RedPlum. Let’s see how long it takes them to get their act together.

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11 comments on “If the Los Angeles Times goes out of business, don’t shoot the messenger!

  1. sally stevens says:

    I get the Sunday Times and they use both Red Plum and Smart Source for their coupons.

  2. Todd Everett says:

    Indeed. But I was talking about today, and RedPlum said (as I reported) that the “mail only” deal wouldn’t start until the 25th. But I’ll look forward with interest to what happens on Sunday.

  3. Carol says:

    I quit subscribing to The Times a few years ago. I read it online–what’s left of it.

    I found I don’t miss the ads in the least. What you might save on one item, you make up for in a price hike on another.

  4. Dennis M says:

    I used to sell newspaper insert advertising, but this story is really odd.

    The newspapers can deliver a pre-printed insert much cheaper than the post office can. In a combined buy, the newspaper provides its subscriber list to the direct mailer so the advertiser achieves total saturation without duplication.

    Since the expense of inserting the pre-printed ad is minimal, it’s almost pure profit for the newspaper. I can’t imagine any newspaper voluntarily withdrawing from this cash cow.

  5. Todd Everett says:

    The point I was trying to make — and it’s admittedly just a guess — is that RedPlum pulled out because The Times couldn’t get the zoned editions straight. Certainly it wouldn’t have been the paper’s doing. If Donald Sterling ever gets upset with the paper (or lands that personal assistant he keeps advertising for), they’ll be in real trouble!

  6. Mark Serrano says:

    They don’t care. Really. The Times suffers from not only having to deal with changes in the industry, it suffers from extraordinarily bad management. The editor is proud of the decline of the product…I could go on.

    I canceled my subscription because they couldn’t get the paper to me, and told them that. They didn’t care. Contrast that with the complaint I made to the NY Times about the same issue, and not only was it corrected, but I received several follow up calls from management making certain that the problem was corrected. One set of actions communicates: “We could care less about you…” the other says “We value you as a customer.”

    Screw the LA Times…they’re getting exactly what they deserve.

  7. Ed says:

    I was one of those who always looked at the Ralphs ad in the Tuesday LAT. For whatever reason, Ralphs was not part of the Red Plum mailer I would subsequently receive. Albertsons and Vons and a Mexican super market were always in the mailer.

    This was the first week 1) no Ralphs insert in the LAT, and 2) the Ralphs insert was in the Red Plum mailer.

    I live in Valley Village (NoHo).

  8. Beth Uyehara says:

    It’s not only ads that are screwed up in delivery. I cancelled the Times a while back, as my husband had stopped reading it. (I stopped a while before him.) Sometimes, it just went from our yard in the evening directly into the recycle bin.

    After cancelling LAT, I subscribed to the NY Times on weekends, but then my husband missed LAT, so I resubscribed. Big Mistake. I tried to subscribe for only weekdays, having decided on NYT weekends. LAT offered me the subscription for 75 cents a week, which was great.

    They are now billing my credit card for $75 a month! And both papers are being delivered together 7 days a week. And some days we get two copies of the NYT, and no LAT or vice versa. Sometimes we get one or the other of the Timeses, plus a Korean-language paper.

    The most interesting thing we get out of our LAT subscription is the daily surprise of what lands on our front lawn.

    I’m thinking the only solution is to cancel both papers and go back to the Daily News for my husband. (I read WaPo, NYT and others online.)

  9. Glenn says:

    Red Plum has been packaging the weekly supermarket ads for the Los Angeles Times just as it has and continues to do for snail mail. The only difference now, as of the week of August 24, is that it’s going to be snail mail and smaller area newspapers only now. Don’t blame the Los Angeles Times for any “wrong” ads for your area, it’s Red Plum’s fault which has been handling the weekly supermarket ads for a long time.

    This has nothing to do with the Red Plum Sunday coupon inserts although Red Plum has been dropping newspapers nationwide in favor of delivering the Sunday newspaper Red Plum coupon insert to your door or through snail mail. That will likely be next in our area.

  10. Bob says:

    Red Plum and LA Times had a falling out over the joint TMC agreement with LA Newspaper Group and Valassis (Red Plum). LA Times pulled out of the deal, and is restarting it’s own program. Red Plum retaliated by pulling out of the LA Times altogether. This had nothing to do with LA Times’ piss-poor zoning management.

    Red plum gets a better postal rate now because of it being 100% saturation delivery and not just select addresses who don’t subscribe to the LA Times.

    The LA Times, in its classic and dated position that they are the kings of the market, believes they don’t need the help of Red Plum, the industry’s pre-print giant.

    In the coming months, this will prove to be yet another stupid decision by the once relevant newspaper dinasaur.

  11. Bob says:

    Glenn – wrong. The Red Plum zoning issues, along with all other zoning issues going on, is courtesy of the deteriorated systems in LA Times circulation and operations departments. Poor senior leadership in circulation has destroyed what was once the most efficient and pwerful distribution network in the country. He now goes by the name of “Mr Publisher” at the Daily News.

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