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The Berkeley Daily Planet's Business Plan

The Berkeley Daily Planet’s advertising is most notable for its paucity.  Look closely and you will see that much or most of what advertising there is has been placed by the Berkeley Daily Planet itself, as in pleas for subscriptions or donations (as though it were a non-profit, which it is not), or ads for Berkeley Daily Planet mugs and tee-shirts. 

To quantify this phenomenon, we measured and compared the advertising in the May 13, 2009 issue of the East Bay Express and the April 23, 2009 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet:


East Bay Express 

Daily Planet

Total Pages



Total Pages of advertising




Pages of Text



Percent advertising



(note:  we left out the Berkeley Daily Planet’s self-advertising, but included advertising we happen to know the Berkeley Daily Planet has given away for free, and we also left out an expensive insert in the East Bay Express.) 

The difference is stunning.  The East Bay Express has 10 times more pages of advertising.  Even adjusted for total page number of text pages (the Express has almost twice as many pages of text), The Daily Planet has vastly less advertising. We also analyzed the June, 2009 issue of East Bay Monthly. The results, in terms of percent of total pages covered by ads (18.9 pages of ads to 32 pages total), was identical to the East Bay Express at 59%.

Since we took these measurements in April, The Berkeley Daily Planet has done nothing but shed advertisers.  For example, The September 17, 2009 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet had 3.1 pages of advertising, barely half of what it had in April.  That same week’s East Bay Express had 12 times more advertising.
Why are advertisers flocking to the East Bay Express and shunning the Berkeley Daily Planet?  Three reasons, we believe.  First, The East Bay Express is a much better paper without being a purveyor of hate.  Second, the Berkeley Daily Planet’s core demographic, Berkeley’s aging radicals, is of only marginal interest to most would be advertisers.  Third, as a matter of practicality, advertising in the Berkeley Daily Planet does not attract customers.

We wanted to test the third theory, so we ourselves placed an ad in the Berkeley Daily Planet to attract more readers (Click here for Ad).  Since we are entirely web based, it was easy enough to check the number of hits we received in the week the ad ran.  We did no other advertising either in the weeks leading up to our ad placement or the weeks after, so it was a pretty pure test.  We, ourselves, were genuinely surprised by the result.  Unique hits actually declined fractionally. 

How could this possibly have happened?  Our best theory is that, apart from aging radicals, most people who actually pick up a copy of the Berkeley Daily Planet do not read it cover to cover.  Typically, they pick it up for one reason, and go to the one or two pages that satisfy that need.  Maybe they just read Doonsbury, and then give the rest of the paper the old heave ho.  Or maybe it is the Calendar of Events, or just the front page for what little local news there is.  This is in keeping with our own experience.  We know very few people who actually read the paper except to monitor it for hate speech as we do.  However, our editor had dinner with a city official recently who claims to read the paper (though he hates it) for obvious professional reasons.  Amazingly, this person knew absolutely nothing about the controversy surrounding Sinkinson, DPWatchDog, Spitzer, etc.  How could this be?  Quite simply, he skims the paper for the few shreds of useful information and tosses the rest, unread.  He is probably typical. 

For months now, The Daily Planet has been trying everything to stay afloat financially.   We all know that newspapers have their challenges.  However, none of the Berkeley Daily Planet’s competitors, the East Bay Express, The East Bay Monthly or the Berkeley Voice, seem to have had any trouble gathering enough advertisers to make themselves self-sustaining and profitable.  So far as we know, none pleads poverty nor solicits donations.

The Berkeley Daily Planet has tried everything in order to become solvent--everything, that is, but the obvious: REFORM. 

The Berkeley Daily Planet has tried to sell subscriptions.  Not many takers.  Pretending to be a church, they have been reduced to begging for love offerings.  Not a lot of takers there either.  They announced that they would become a formal non-profit so that folks could at least tax deduct these love offerings to the vastly wealthy Becky O’Malley.  But that didn’t pan out either.

In her May 21, 2009 editorial O’Malley announced her new plan.  Over the summer of 2009 the Berkeley Daily Planet will pare back its print run (advertisers will love that) and try to charge $2.00 a copy.  She actually does not call this a charge, but a “donation,” maintaining the religious schtick.  O’Malley says that if only 5,000 people “donate” (i.e., pony up) each week the Berkeley Daily Planet can stay in business.  Are there 5,000 aging radicals in Berkeley?  Perhaps.  Are there 5,000 aging radicals in Berkeley who are willing to pay $2.00 a week for the Berkeley Daily Planet?  We will see.

Although the Daily Planet does appear to be in a death spiral, it is premature to announce its death.  There may still be time for O’Malley to turn things around through a process of reform.   Sadly, the Berkeley Daily Planet for the moment has chosen instead to lash out at the messenger ( and others who criticize it).  We are hoping that O’Malley soon recognizes the futility of this strategy.  If she does reform, it can be a win-win for almost everyone.  Berkeleyans can have a fine and informative local newspaper that does not set the town's residents at each other’s throats, while local businesses can have a newspaper that they can proudly identify with and support with their ad spends.  The only loser will be, which will have nothing left to do, and will have to fold.    We at are willing to make that sacrifice.

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