Duluth plays chicken with Blondie and King Features

I don’t run blog posts about who’s getting picked up or dropped anymore, but this story has some interest into the business side of the syndication business. The Duluth News Tribune didn’t like that as a long time subscriber to Blondie (since 1937 – seven years after Blondie debuted), it’s been paying yearly increases on the strip’s rate to the point that it is five times more expensive than Beetle Bailey. So the paper complained to the syndicate and wanted to renegotiate the rate. According to Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune editor, King Features responded by not responding to calls and inquiries. So after a year of trying to work with King, the paper is dropping Blondie and picking up Pearls Before Swine.

I suggested that maybe we should cancel it and start again, but he warned me I didn’t want to do that – and launched into the story of how the News Tribune once canceled “Beetle Bailey” and the Budgeteer picked it up and made hay out of it.

I don’t know if he heard me say that’s unlikely these days because the DNT and Budge are now the same company. Regardless, if he didn’t want to talk about it then, he certainly hasn’t made much of an effort since. For at least a year I have called and e-mailed him repeatedly with no call back. So has my assistant. Zip. No response to our director of finance, either.

Someone at the syndicate finally did acknowledge our flat-out notice to cancel, so that’s what will happen, effective this Wednesday. In its place will be “Pearls Before Swine,” a more contemporary, offbeat strip. (The first “Pearls Before Swine” Sunday strip will run Feb. 17.) It’s nothing like “Blondie,” but the syndicate that handles it is nothing like Blondie’s, either. To start with, they called us back. And they offered a very reasonable price, though that isn’t the only consideration. If you like it, tell us. If you don’t, tell us also, and we may consider something else.

I don’t know how representative this story is of King Features and how they treat their clients, but clearly King lost a bit of shine and cash due to bad customer service.

7 thoughts on “Duluth plays chicken with Blondie and King Features

  1. How many U.S. newspaper markets no longer carry Blondie in their comics? I think Milwaukee is one of them.

  2. I never had any trouble getting in touch with the people at King. In fact, the rep used to call me from time to time to talk about new strips, despite my telling him that we weren’t likely to make any changes, having recently re-done the entire page.

    I’m in some sympathy with the editor because, when I looked over the mounting cost of some of those old-faithfuls, they were jaw-dropping. That’s not a KFS exclusive — I remember one editor being furious with the price increases for Bloom County as it became hot, and even angrier with what they wanted for “Outland.” However, in the later case, the editor, and probably some editors before him, had simply been rubber-stamping the invoices without much examination, until the crunch years hit, and he didn’t realize what some of those old strips were costing us until I pointed it out.

    However, once presented with the choice between re-negotiating or cancellation, the whir of pencil sharpeners and the polishing of green eyeshades started right up.

    I suspect a breakdown in communications somewhere and a less-than-fun meeting at KFS going on just about now.

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