Press Coverage

Is the press as sick as a parrot?

Dean Wilson 21 Jun 2011

Dean Wilson, UK MD at Active International: “Challenges for the press are many but I doubt whether there will be a day in my life when I won’t be able to get what I want to read on good old analogue processed tree...”

Prior to the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, the vast proportion of information and stories were distributed by word-of-mouth, so not much difference to these days, if you listen to a social media guru.

Today, there can’t be many media professionals who haven’t discussed the woes of the press, certainly with regard to advertising revenue and their ongoing commercial models. The subject has been debated at length by publishers, their trade associations and media buyers.

I don’t plan to tread the well-worn path of these experts, but first to put things in perspective, some key facts, courtesy of the Newspaper Marketing Agency (national newspapers), the Newspaper Society (regional/local newspapers), the Periodical Publishers Association (magazines) and a couple of media agency experts:

  • Around 50% of UK adults read a newspaper daily, 75% weekly.
  • Three quarters of adults read a local/regional newspaper.
  • In any one month well over 80% of the population read magazines, often a range of titles.

However, with some notable exceptions, paid newspaper print circulations are in long-term decline and many general interest magazines are suffering the same fate.

Advertising revenues have suffered in the last few years, like much other “traditional” media but are forecast to be relatively flat this year and next, except regional’s where the washout of classified and recruitment still has some way to go, hence negatively affecting ad yields.

Factually then there is still plenty of scale to reach audiences and few titles staring over a precipice on revenue, cover prices or ad income.

Personally I want a free-press and understand the benefits of proper journalistic standards and the creation of great content. However, can the business model of a mix of cover price (or not) and advertising revenue sustain the costs of gathering and producing the content and its distribution?

If the switch from print to digital saves on overheads, can people still be encouraged to pay and will advertising be as valuable to brands?

Perhaps the fact the press is so synonymous with the printing press is one of its problems, surely publishing is a more accurate moniker.

Here are some of my observations on the positives for publishers:

Brands are important to people, openly and subliminally. Many titles have strong and positive brand attributes people understand and trust.

The internet has given people access to more of everything, free is everywhere: new, cheaper, faster distribution channels allow publishers to reach out to existing and new audiences who they may be able to turn into paid subscribers. Even if people won’t pay, data can be collected enabling better targeting for advertisers at higher rates; readers can be directly sold products and services, kind of publisher as grocer or sales agent.

The thirst for great content when people are mobile still has a long way to go. Whether the iPad and other tablets become truly mass market anytime soon is anyone’s guess. But the Financial Times is using the latest internet language HTML5 to prove you don’t have to be an application to deliver great digital content functionality. The internet will surely be the de facto delivery platform to all mobiles. Perhaps the Apple walled-garden, taking a greedy slice of digital subs and sales, has reached a near peak.

Most newspapers have an over-reliance on retail advertising. Digital distribution and a demand for more localisation and location-based marketing play into the hands of regional titles and nationals with strong a strong digital readership.

Vouchers and loyalty programmes appear to be growing in popularity among many people. There are great opportunities to exploit this, as an example look at the Mail’s recent launch of a rewards club.

Also of interest, some stories about press in the news, just in the last week. If you saw the Apprentice on TV last week, you’ll have seen some of media-land’s finest giving expert advice to contestants who devised and created dummies for new magazines. It is unlikely the Apprentice producers would pick a challenge that viewers, all 7.2 million of them, wouldn’t identify with.

The Guardian in print is to move from competing in the 24 hour breaking-news arena to offering a read more appropriate for the half of their readers who don’t look at the paper until the evening. At the same time their online publishing will move in to the “digital first” space.

Richard Desmond categorically denied a sell-off of his UK print titles, Express, Star and OK! He backs this up with his £100 million investment in a new print works in Luton, of all places.

Challenges for the press are many but I doubt whether there will be a day in my life when I won’t be able to get what I want to read on good old analogue processed tree.

Press doesn’t look like a dead parrot to me, even if a Norwegian Blue and the Sport are pushing-up the daisies, and forecasts of the death of the patient are somewhat premature.


Dean Wilson

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