POSTSCRIPT / July 18, 1999 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Press freedom not related to movie ads

THERE’S a claim that the pullout of movie ads from the Daily Inquirer is a blow to press freedom in the Philippines. I beg to disagree.

To support my line and to give readers a more rounded picture, I’m sharing here some data on movie ads and other details of newspaper publishing, especially as they pertain to the Inquirer (where I used to be president and editor in chief).

* * *

THE ad revenue loss sustained by the Inquirer with the boycott of local movie producers is a small drop in the multimillion-peso bucket of the paper. The ad pullout is being blown out of proportion and is being wrung of its anti-Estrada propaganda value.

Most people don’t know that those movie ads enjoy a special low rate negotiated by the movie cartel. The paper hardly makes money on the movie ads. That’s the reason why they are deliberately made small.

The paper gave the producers a fixed space (one to two pages only) for all their ads and told them to just squeeze their uniform-sized ads – plus the movie guide — in that limited space.

Some producers can afford bigger ads, and sometimes want bongga ads for important premieres, but since the ad rate for movies is very low, the paper does not allow them more space.

* * *

IF the paper is not making money on movie ads, why does it continue to run them? The reason is that many moviegoers buy newspapers to look for the movie ads and consult the movie guide.

Moviegoers pay P10 to P12 for a regular newspaper just to look at the movie layouts and schedules? Yes they do. May movie guide na, may diaryo pa sila.

Some serious readers may be surprised to know that other people buy their favorite newspaper, drop the main section and go straight to the entertainment and showbiz section.

In other words, the movie ads are not so much a profit factor for the Inquirer as they are a come-on to readership and circulation.

Profit-wise, the movie ad pullout is not hurting the Inquirer.

* * *

A NEWSPAPER makes money mainly from two sources: the sale of advertising space and the sale of copies. More than half of the Inquirer’s revenue comes from advertising.

The target content mix of the Inquirer is 60 percent ads and 40 percent editorial. That means that management aims for an issue more than half of whose pages are devoted to ads.

The rate for a one-page black and white ad is P100,000-plus on a weekday, and P136,000 on Sundays. If only half of a 60-page issue is devoted to ads, that’s still a cool P3 million for that ordinary day. If it sells 150,000 copies at P12 each, that’s another P1.8 million for the day.

In peso value, P3 million vs. P1.8 million is still roughly a 60:40 ad-to-editorial ratio, the ideal proportion sought each day.

* * *

WHAT happens when not that many ads come in to fill 60 percent of a particular issue? They simply knock down the number of pages to achieve a proportion closer to the desired 60:40 ad-to-editorial ratio.

That explains why the paper is thin at times. It is not that the reporters suddenly could not gather enough news. It is just that not that many ads came in that day.

If the Inquirer continues to experience the present erosion of advertising support, for whatever reason, management will have no choice but to run fewer pages.

It is common knowledge in the industry that many big advertisers have pulled out from the Inquirer, for their own reasons and not for any reason remotely related to Malacañang.

This bleeding, which has been traced largely to arrogant and errant editorial handling, is self-inflicted.

* * *

IT is, therefore, not hard to imagine that the Inquirer is complaining of the pullout of the local movie ads not really because it sustained an injurious loss of revenue, but because of something else.

What that something else is is the more interesting question.

Some observers note that the issue is not really press freedom, because the paper is still free to publish news as it pleases and its editorial and column writers are able to write without prior restraint.

The Inquirer appears to have seized the ad pullout to cry persecution and grow bigger, nobler, in the eyes of its public. On cue, its friends and some politicians who know a good issue to ride on are noisily denouncing alleged presidential pressure.

The more knowledgeable observers, however, yawn and point out that “all is fair.…” They point out that if the paper can dish it out, it should be able to take it.

* * *

WITH its readers being told of alleged presidential pressure being brought to bear on the movie producers, the paper presumably expects gain more sympathetic readers.

Between a loss of ad revenue and a gain in readership, a paper mindful of its profitability will normally prefer keeping the ads to losing them but gaining readers.

The arithmetic of newspaper publishing may look strange to the uninitiated. When a paper achieves a thickness like that of the major broadsheets, the more copies the publisher prints, the more money he loses.

The reason is that the cover price of each copy is lower than the cost of producing it. Considering the thickness of the major broadsheets, it does not pay to print too many copies. As a complementary move, return of unsold copies is kept to a minimum (within 15 percent is good enough for most publishers).

The advertising revenue for an issue is fixed for that day – whether one prints 10,000 or one million copies. So why print an excessive number of copies and spend more for producing and handling them when you can rake in the same ad revenue (fixed for the day) even if you print only a small number?

* * *

PRESIDENT Estrada will never admit having pressured the movie producers into boycotting the Inquirer. Why admit it when (we think) he never did such a thing?

The President need not stoop to that level. We believe he did not. Our information is that the pullout was the idea of the movie producers themselves. They did it to show solidarity with the President – who is after all their colleague in the movie business and a friend of the industry.

Why then didn’t the President stop them? Why should he?

In sum, it is distortion for anybody to present the movie ad pullout from the Inquirer as a rallying point for press freedom. There are other valid press-freedom issues, but this one is certainly not.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 18, 1999)

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