Real-time decisions for daily regional newspapers

Deep South Media

Content is king whatever the format

by Ron Wain, Joint Managing Director, Deep South Media

If your business lost a third of its sales over half a year, following a long-term decline, what would you do?

Perhaps reach for a stiff drink and reminisce about the glory days? Then put staff to the sword as a stop-gap measure to reduce costs?

The enormity of just such a situation casts a shadow over the regional newspaper industry following the latest audited circulation figures. The best performer in England celebrated, if that is the correct word, a drop of just under 5%, while the worst was a smidgeon under a jaw-dropping 34%.

The decline in sales of local dailies is across the board. Fewer of us are buying printed newspapers; we walk or drive past what is now clearly an anachronism in our digital world, the newspaper bill board.

Yet this is not the time to start shroud-waving and delivering the last rites. Far from it. The readership of many titles is higher than ever, courtesy of the internet.

Newspaper websites receive tens of thousands of online hits every day from an audience that recognises the provenance of the paper which was read by generations of their families before them. The brand is still respected, liked, trusted.

So the product is not at fault here – the news content is usually good enough to attract people’s valuable screen time.

That readers can comment in real-time on stories is also a draw, as part of that all-important user experience, albeit with the exception that it leaves the door open for the venomous to air their warped opinions.

Interactive advertisements, too, reach out to us in a way that printed ads never could. Which takes us to the heart of the problem. Ads generate the revenues that keep newspapers alive, but online ads don’t generate as nearly as much profit as those in print.

Yet, in time, that may well change, given that online advertisements already have a far larger audience than is now achievable in print.

Like an unstoppable avalanche, more and more of us, of all ages, from all backgrounds, are accessing news – free – from phones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Indeed, the main regional press groups have all recorded surges in online readership.

So there is an increasingly cogent case for regional daily and weekly titles to cite their website hits, to justify higher advertising revenues, rather than being wedded to audited newspaper sales rooted in a bygone age.

In the light of what appears to be an irreversible decline in paid-for daily print sales, perhaps it is time to wave goodbye to cover prices and instead start producing free Metro-style papers, on a daily or regular basis, backed up with a free-access website.

Or ditch print entirely and bring in a free-access website, accepting that revenues will hurt for some time before the patient returns to health.

Then, down the line, make the transition to subscription only, ensuring that the editorial content is so good, so readable, so engaging and revelatory. By doing so, visitors won’t mind quite so much that they have to dip into their pockets and/or be tempted to search elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the role of the journalist is more important than ever in the internet age. Without compelling editorial content, there would be no brand, no local newspaper, online or in print.

Come on, don’t wave to the drowning. Instead, take action in real-time.