The conservative New York Sun announces on its front page each morning that it reaches “150,000 of New York City’s Most Influential Readers Every Day.” I read in Scott Sherman’s sympathetic April 30 profile in this magazine that the Sun says it is selling 13,211 hard copies a day and giving away more than 85,000.
But if my experience is any guide, these numbers are about as reliable as a Bush budget briefing. I have twice received free Sun subscription offers, initially when the Sun began publication, in the spring of 2002, and more recently this past winter. Both times I signed up. In 2002 I got bupkes, though I called about it more than once. Between January 1 and Memorial Day, I not only hassled the circulation people myself; so did my intern, Mike, many times over five months. Over and over, the Sun‘s staffers insisted that I was getting the paper and just didn’t know it. Eventually about eight copies showed up one morning addressed to different apartments in my building. That lasted a day. (Ironically, one more showed up Tuesday morning, May 29, as this column was due.)
I have similar reservations about the paper’s purported sales figures, however meager. I did no sleuthing myself, but not only is this a business rampant with fraud, it’s also characterized by more shady-but-legal tricks of the trade than a border-based bordello. According to William Breen, for instance, who says he worked for a New York City wholesaler (and wrote a 2004 letter to Jim Romenesko’s blog, MediaNews), city news dealers paid just a penny per copy. That means it makes no economic sense to return the leftovers. The result, Breen claimed, was “their circ figures look great. Virtually every copy they print is ‘sold.'”
The Sun is supported by many famously savvy and unsentimental investors, including Richard Gilder, Roger Hertog, Michael Steinhardt, Bruce Kovner and Thomas Tisch (though its most prominent one, Conrad Black, is now on trial for myriad varieties of fraud). I’m sure one of them would be smart enough to explain why it’s so hard to actually obtain one of their newspapers, but during the Sun‘s high-profile 2002 launch, none was able to offer a convincing commercial rationale for creating a conservative highbrow newspaper in a liberal city that already had two highbrow papers and at least two conservative ones (depending on how you measure these things).
When its guiding spirit, Seth Lipsky, tried to explain the paper’s raison d’être to Sherman, he found himself not only ignoring Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post–which may be understandable, given its addiction to sleaze–but also the Wall Street Journal, which, while published in New York City, with an enormous New York-based staff and readership, Lipsky says is something other than a New York newspaper. Lipsky was also compelled to place the prowar Daily News, whose extremely involved owner-editor, Mortimer Zuckerman, is one of America’s most prominent supporters of the Israeli government and voted for George W. Bush in 2004, on the left side of the spectrum.