The former boss of Northcliffe’s regional websites has claimed that online promotion of their print counterparts had no impact on declining sales.
Robert Hardie left his role as digital publishing director at Northcliffe earlier this year after nearly a decade running its thisis network of newspaper companion sites.
In a blog post, he revealed that the performance of the group’s print titles was “totally unaffected” by whatever approaches were taken to the digital platform.
Wrote Robert: “John Meehan’s In Publishing article had much in it to be recommended, particularly its sensible approach to the daily-to-weekly drift and focus on tablets as the medium-of-choice for the next generation of news consumers.
“But at its heart is a presumption that print performance in terms of sales can be influenced either positively or negatively by digital performance, an issue John and I often crossed swords on when he was a Northcliffe print editor and I was digital publishing director.
“With 20+ daily titles to compare, we had the luxury of being able to take different approaches to content volumes/timings in terms of uploading to the websites and then look at their impact.
“At different times – often for very long periods of time – we uploaded all content and no content, full versions and truncated versions, pre-print and post-print, and on some websites we promoted the print title to the nth degree while on some others it was never mentioned.
“What was interesting – and sobering – was that no matter what approach was taken to digital, the performance of the print title was totally unaffected – the sales decline of otherwise identical papers was identical despite them taking totally opposite approaches to digital publishing.
“My instinct was that trying to sell one of your products by making another one of your products less good than it could be was not a strong marketing logic, and that turned out to be the case.”
In his article published last week, John posed the question of whether a newspaper’s exclusive in-depth splash should be uploaded in full to the web.
“Surely it’s better to refer to it online; promote the paper’s unique content; and drive conversation and follow-up angles on the website and via social media. Hardly rocket science, but does anybody do it, routinely? Indeed, are they allowed to?” he wrote.