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Orange County Register’s missed deliveries are firm’s latest stumble

Orange County Register

Newspaper boxes outside the Orange County Register in Santa Ana. A $45.5-million bid from Digital First Media for the assets of parent Freedom Communications will be the “stalking horse” bid in an auction Wednesday.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

When thousands of Orange County Register readers didn’t get their paper on Sunday, the Register offered an alternative: Come pick it up.

In a Facebook post at 3:36 p.m. Sunday, the paper told peeved readers they could get a free copy at the Register’s Santa Ana headquarters — if they arrived by 5 p.m.

The offer only added to readers’ angst over a transition to a new delivery company. On Saturday, the Register switched from Los Angeles Times distributors, which it has used since 2009, to another carrier.

It made the change to ACI Media Group to provide subscribers with “exceptional value and quality service,” according to a recording on the newspaper’s customer service line.

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But The Times said in a statement that the Register has “been consistently late in paying money it owes” for more than a year and a half, beginning in April 2013. The Register now owes more than $3.5 million, according to The Times.

The Register agreed to a payment plan to retroactively cover missed payments in May. It made a single payment in June and then stopped, according to The Times.

The Times said it continued to distribute the Register but informed the company last month that it was in default on the contract and had 30 days to pay. Soon after, according to The Times, the Register began advertising for new carriers, despite an exclusivity agreement to use The Times as its sole distributor through Jan. 24, 2015.

The Times said it terminated its agreement with the Register on Monday and intends to “pursue all remedies” to collect the money it is owed.

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Register publisher Aaron Kushner said the company remains committed to its “loyal subscribers.”

“Given that the Los Angeles Times refused to guarantee uninterrupted delivery of our paper, we were left with no choice but to transition to a new delivery service,” Kushner said in an email to The Times. “While we note that the significant majority of our subscribers were not affected by delivery problems, for those of our customers who were, we sincerely apologize to you, and please know that we are doing everything possible to provide you with uninterrupted delivery. We do expect regular delivery to all subscribers to be achieved over the next few days.”

On Monday afternoon, the Register apologized in an email to a subscriber whose paper was not delivered. The email said the Register was “working around the clock with the new carrier teams to resolve all newspaper delivery issues.”

The email said subscribers will receive credit for days the paper was not delivered.

“Our goal in the days and weeks ahead is to make things right, and we will get there,” the newspaper said in its email.

The delivery problems are the most recent stumble for Freedom Communications Inc., the Register’s parent. Freedom Chief Executive Kushner and his team bought the company in 2012, purchased the Riverside Press-Enterprise and introduced the Long Beach Register and the Los Angeles Register.

But he quickly retrenched. In June, Kushner — a vocal proponent of print news — decided to merge the Long Beach Register with its then-7-week-old Los Angeles cousin. Freedom also imposed two-week furloughs, and dozens of Orange County Register staffers took buyouts.

The Los Angeles publication lasted until late September before shutting down as Freedom eliminated 29 newsroom positions companywide, including many from the Orange County Register.

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In January, Freedom had laid off 71 employees.

The Register recently moved its printing times up two hours, to 9 p.m., to give its new carriers enough time to deliver the papers, according to Register employees. As a result, the OC Varsity section, which features the results of games that often end late in the evening, was left out of Saturday’s edition.

Instead, a note in the paper asked readers to check for scores on the OC Varsity website. The Register said on Twitter that the section was missing “to accommodate an earlier print deadline” and would be in the Sunday paper.

On the Register’s Facebook page, condemnation from customers came fast and fierce. How were elderly or disabled subscribers with limited transportation options going to get their papers? Why should readers have to spend money on gasoline to go pick up a product for which they’d already paid?

Cyndi Mino, 61, said that when her paper didn’t arrive Saturday morning, she called customer service but couldn’t get through to a real person.

Sunday and Monday passed, paperless. The Huntington Beach resident reached a customer service representative Monday morning and was promised a three-day refund. Mino asked if delivery would resume on Tuesday.

“I have no idea,” the representative told her.

She canceled her subscription Monday afternoon.

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

andrew.khouri@latimes.com

Twitter: @tiffhsulatimes, @khouriandrew


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