Off Beat

Pump Up the Volume

WHAT'S WITH THE massive front-page makeover of the Star Tribune? If you're muttering to yourself, "What massive front-page makeover?" you're probably not alone--but read on. Beginning with the paper's Monday, February 19 edition, copies of the Strib printed for "street" (as opposed to subscription) sales have sported a radical new front page. The redesigned A1 boasts an enormous top-of-the-page banner, with big color pictures teasing stories to be found inside; a second banner runs vertically down the right side of the entire page, occupying nearly one-third of its width. All of which has conspired to reduce the paper's trademark logo to a sad and withered state, and, typically, to accommodate a mere three stories on the front page. Has USA Today seized the Newspaper of the Twin Cities in a quiet midnight coup? Au contraire, says Strib spokesman Frank Parisi. The paper has been running a little experiment, redesigning the front section of the "street" edition in the hope that a more eye-catching presentation might boost slumping sales (street sales account for roughly 25 percent of the paper's total circulation). Though he refuses to provide specific numbers ("It hasn't dropped off the cliff, but [sales are] down"), Parisi notes that street sales are suffering industry-wide. The Strib will try the new format for a month or so, with a daily new-look run of about 10,000 copies, and if sales perk up the redesign may become permanent. Subscribers, meanwhile, will continue to receive their news in the less flashy format.

Thanks for the Memories

GEE, SEEMS LIKE only yesterday that K-TEL International was cashing in on the Internet boom, sending its slumbering stock price from the single digits up into the stratosphere. Of course, that was 1998, and on the New Economy Time Scale, that's ancient history. Since those heady days, it's been pretty much nothing but bad news for the Twin Cities-based CD distribution and manufacturing company best known for its oldies compilations. The company's stock--which for a few minutes there traded as high as the mid-30s (split adjusted)--is no longer significant enough to be listed by the Nasdaq, and currently moves over the counter at a piddling 16 cents per share. Last summer the company closed its German subsidiary, and also laid off 35 employees here (see Sound Check, August 2, 2000). Things don't seem to have improved. The venerable firm has trimmed its workforce from 125 last summer to a mere 35 today, with many of those cuts coming in recent weeks. "Our niche in the market has kind of eroded," concedes Dennis Ward, K-TEL's chief financial officer, explaining that behemoths like Time-Warner have made it hard to compete in the cutthroat world of compilation recording. "When the big boys are moving in, we have to move elsewhere." The company, which had been headquartered in Los Angeles, has transferred all its operations to the Twin Cities and consolidated its offices and warehouses here into a single building in Maple Plain. Are even harder times around the corner? "Uh," Ward begins, and then pauses. "I am here to push along the things we want to continue doing." Exactly what those things might be, Ward isn't saying.