When Folha Ruins Breakfast

Failure to deliver the newspaper affects those who are responsible for much of the revenue from circulation

On Wednesday (7) night, President Jair Bolsonaro was applauded by a handful of business people at a dinner in São Paulo. After days of announcing the event, the newspaper struggled to reproduce the general picture of the meeting, which may prove that the press is facing difficulties in ascertaining everything that involves the government.

However, some readers of Folha were not aware of what happened the next morning, as usual, nor were they able to assess the quality of the coverage, as they did not receive the newspaper in its printed version.

"I am a subscriber to Folha, and I have been having problems with delivery. Worse, two days in a row. Yesterday (Wednesday) and today (Thursday). In normal times this is no longer justified. In these times when seclusion is necessary, having a distraction newspaper is of paramount importance," wrote one of them.

Even though the duties of the ombudsman function are focused on editorial issues, messages about failures in the delivery of the newspaper are forwarded and, I am a witness, duly answered.

In the last few weeks, the number of comments have grown, as well as become more forceful, coming from readers who do not give up access to information in printed format in a period in which, at least for a part of them, especially the older ones, the time at home is bigger.

Today, if most of Folha's nearly 338,000 subscriptions are digital, there are about 70,000 print version subscribers spread across the country.

For the physical newspaper to reach the the delivery person and from there arrive at the door of the reader's house, there is a logistics that, if it was already complex, faces additional obstacles with the pandemic.

Folha and Agora are printed at the company's graphics warehouse, which is located in Tamboré, 40 kilometers from the city of São Paulo.

From there, the cars leave towards the airport with the editions that will be delivered in the North and Northeast, in addition to Rio Grande do Sul and Brasília. Another batch continues in 18 trucks to distribution points in almost all of the Southeast, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Mato Grosso do Sul.

To meet this logistics, two editions of the newspaper are produced: one that goes to the printing shop earlier and at around 10 pm continues to the interior of São Paulo and other states. And another that, around 11:30 pm, begins to be distributed to Greater São Paulo, Baixada Santista, and Brasília.

Between one closing and the next, updates are made by the newsroom, and this is what explains the differences in content between print editions of Folha that sometimes surprise the reader.
The pandemic has affected this dynamic. About a year ago, the delivery of the print edition was temporarily suspended for some regions due to changes in the prices charged to newspapers by the airlines, which was renegotiated and normalized.

However, the reduction in daily flights still affects some routes, which continues to cause delays in the distribution of newspapers.

On the land side, Folha's circulation area says that the problems are specific: as the trucks carry between 2,000 and 3,000 newspapers each, any unforeseen event - such as a flat tire or even traffic - can affect the delivery of the newspaper in an entire region.

Readers say, however, that the problems are bigger. "There are customary delays or absence of delivery, which results in the same, after all, the news of a day that arrives after lunch the other day is useless," said a reader from Uberlândia, rightly so.

In 2000, Folha had, on average, 440,600 subscribers in print only. Since then, more than 370,000 subscriptions to the paper edition have disappeared - which surpasses Folha's current circulation.

In an interview published in February, in celebration of the newspaper's 100th anniversary, Folha publisher Luiz Frias said that, of the newspaper's total subscriptions in 2020, 80% were digital. At the end of last year, digital subscribers represented more than two-thirds of the portfolio and a few percentage points below 40% in revenue. The goal in two years, he said, is to have half of the circulation revenue coming from digital.

Once the objective is fulfilled, the printed copies will still account for the other half of the revenue from circulation, which is significant.

The explanation for this is not difficult: given the costs of printing and distribution, the subscription to the printed newspaper costs R $ 129.90 per month (which may be higher, depending on the region), while the price of Folha's digital subscription is of R $ 29.90.

This means that the future of the newspaper, in the short and medium-term, rests on the subscriber, be it in the digital or printed version - which quickly becomes out of date online, but gains at a different rate of reading and reflection, especially for those who read more than the headlines.

Although incomprehensible to an increasing number of people, opening the newspaper for breakfast is still one of the great pleasures of the day for many. And if it isn't delivered, it has the power to ruin one's breakfast.

Flavia Lima: A reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon