Another McClatchy paper, the Kansas City Star, implemented the policy in April. The decisions to institute the changes were made by the papers individually and not after a mandate from the McClatchy corporate office. Efforts to cut costs are at the heart of the switch.
Both Sacramento and Tacoma launched the program on Sunday, and dips in circulation were drastic, as expected. At the Sacramento Bee, approximately 220,000 papers were delivered to home subscribers. Only 23,000 received the TV section -- about 10%, the paper said.
In Tacoma, about 100,000 papers were delivered to subscribers, with 2,900 receiving the TV section -- about 3%.
Both papers will continue to offer the TV section in papers sold on newsstands. Miami switched to the 25-cent-per-week charge May 3, but also continues to include the section in single copies it sells.
Subscribers can "opt-in" to continue receiving the TV section by calling the papers or signing up online. The Sacramento paper had promoted the need for subscribers to do so for five weeks before the switch, a representative for the paper said.
Both the Bee and the Miami Herald promised that the sections -- which for years have carried the full program listings for the week ahead -- would include more content as subscribers were forced to pay the 25 cents. The Bee's "OnTV" now includes a soap opera digest and synopses of TV movies. The Herald promised an expansion to 36 pages.
In Tacoma, there were plans at The News Tribune to expand from 16 to 20 pages with some added columns, but the recession's deepening effects halted that.
David Zeeck, the publisher in Tacoma, wrote to readers May 10 that the new 25-cent charge was made to save "tens of thousands of dollars in annual newsprint costs." In an interview, he estimated it could be more than $50,000 a year. (The paper remains profitable, he said.)
But the move, Zeeck also wrote, is a reaction to changing consumer behavior. Viewers are increasingly turning to on-screen listings for their lineup information -- a conundrum that impacted TV Guide and forced major changes at the magazine several years ago.
Zeeck said that while he believes "the recession hastened" the switch with papers needing to cut costs, some sort of cutback in the publication of TV listings was likely to come nonetheless. "I think it was coming anyway," he said.
Still, fewer supplements distributed means at least some drop in publicity for networks, especially when their shows appear on the cover with an appealing photo.
Several years ago, major circulation drops at Sunday TV supplements could have impacted networks and local stations as they used the sections to advertise. But programmers have cut back significantly, not to mention the sections have very few ads in general anymore. In Tacoma, Comcast sponsored the whole section, but that has stopped.
Melanie Sill, editor of the Sacramento paper, wrote to readers May 10 that the Bee has "stopped distributing the book to people who don't want it ... I think this is a great solution for a part of the paper that is extremely valuable to a significant minority of our readership."
David Landsberg, publisher of the Miami Herald, did not immediately return a call seeking comment