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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