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Highfield defends Johnston Press cover price rises

Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has defended the company’s current strategy of increasing cover prices as part of the relaunches of its paid-for titles.

A further 44 JP titles are relaunching this month following the initial 23 in May which saw five daily titles switch to weekly publication.

Many of the titles being relaunched will also be getting cover price rises with some going up by more than 25pc.

However in an interview with BBC Radio, Ashley defended the strategy saying the intention was to encourage people to take out subscriptions covering both print and online for less than they pay for the paper.

He said:  “We’re looking at making our newspapers a better proposition by investing in them and being able to put the cover prices up.

“That’s not something that our readers are going to rejoice about but they do understand that the papers need to be charged at a price that’s value for money.

“I think the future for our business is to drive subscription levels. So if you take something like the Boston Standard, where we’re putting the price up, we’re actually holding the subscription level  down at 37p, which is considerably lower than the price before we even put the price up.

“What we’re trying to do is move people to a subscription where they’ll get the paper, the iPad app, the website, everything in one bundle for considerably less than the cover price of the paper.”

The Boston Standard currently costs 50p.  It is one of six titles in Linconlnshire, one in Suffolk and two in Hampshire which are relaunching this week.

In the interview, Ashley also challenged the perception of inexorable decline in the regional newspaper industry as “wrong.”

“On average, the decline is around 4 or 5pc and that’s prior to the relaunch. I think that if we start to invest in our newspapers then we can actually, if not completely halt that decline, certainly get it to a place where it’s manageable.

“If we do have a paper that sells 30,000 and it only declines by 5 per cent then next year it will be doing 28,500, the year after that 27,000.  We’ve probably got 30 years at that rate before a paper become unprofitable.”

27 comments

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  • October 16, 2012 at 9:32 am
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    The decline is slowing – until you put the price up by 25pc. Watch those numbers go into free fall once again. What a muppet. Free news on websites is becoming even more attractive. Would be cheaper to buy a Hi-pad than subscribe to a daily newspaper each month. Maybe that’s the idea.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 9:52 am
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    “On average the decline is around 4 or 5 pc”.
    Which ABC figures has Mr Highfield been looking at?
    His world and reality seldom seem to tie up.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 9:54 am
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    Is he aware of the disastrous chaos behind the scenes for beleaguered staff trying to get papers out in his centralised, templated, brave new world?

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  • October 16, 2012 at 10:09 am
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    Highfield claims he is investing in newspapers but how does he justify cutting a swathe through the journalists, printers, graphic artists, salespeople, website designers and various other staff members.
    Does investing in evening newspapers consist of limiting them to one edition, printed overnight?
    Does it mean producing papers designed in Spain, put together in India. What price local now?

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  • October 16, 2012 at 10:22 am
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    anyone notice? There’s a recession on. Readers are struggling. so put your prices up! And then waste a whole page that they have paid for so you can people what’s in the paper. Too silly for words…

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  • October 16, 2012 at 10:46 am
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    “If we do have a paper that sells 30,000 and it only declines by 5 per cent then next year it will be doing 28,500, the year after that 27,000. We’ve probably got 30 years at that rate before a paper become unprofitable.”

    What sort of attitude is that?

    People aren’t buying JP titles because they’re too expensive, stick to a uniform look rather than have a local unique feel and treat the readers like scum by making them continually pay more for less.

    Not everyone wants to buy their paper online. Many readers aren’t of the technical generation that the company bosses adore so much and their loyalty is contantly betrayed by JP.

    I sometimes think that JP has such contempt for newspapers that I wonder why it’s working in that sector at all.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 10:46 am
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    Even with the price rise it’s still dirt cheap – whinging about spending 70p for a paper when a cappuccino costs £2.40 or so. Tastes may be changing, yes, but still massive value for money – and no, I don’t work for the company!

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  • October 16, 2012 at 10:55 am
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    We’ve had a price rise but no redesign! Having seen some of the truly awful redesigns, I am thankful for small mercies.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 11:29 am
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    I spoke to a newsagent in Dewsbury who said the Reporter sales in his shop have dropped by 30% since the double whammy price rise of 45p to 70p in next-to-no time.

    That is set against a backdrop of a product that is gradually deteriorating!

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  • October 16, 2012 at 11:34 am
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    How many of JP’s daily newspapers are only declining 5% year on year??

    The minority!

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  • October 16, 2012 at 11:54 am
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    In Freddie Johnston’s days as Chairman you just didn’t bother thinking about a cover price increase, let alone budgeting for one.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm
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    In retrospect, the policy of not even thinking about cover price rises was probably a mistake. Price of local papers did not keep pace with inflation and now they are having to go up by what seems large sums of money just to catch up.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm
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    This guy would be great on Fighting Talk. ‘Now Ashley, you turn to defend the indefensible … ‘

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  • October 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm
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    I can understand the logic behind putting the price up and the idea that the money would pay for all the media you can access the stories on.

    However in practice, is it really fair to ask the older and loyal generation of readers (who are diminishing in numbers anyway), many of whom will never go near a website to finance the people that read the news free on their PC, table or mobile, unless of course you put up a payment gateway for them as well to share the burden (which didn’t work out so well last time!)

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  • October 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm
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    I worked for a JP paper until earlier this year. I heard several management people use the coffee comparison: “How can you complain about all this content being £1.20 when you pay twice that for a coffee?” Suspect they’ve all been fed the same line and told to stick to it. Watch out for them on this forum (onlooker, I’m looking at you, despite your protests!).

    Also, I’m still unclear what Highfield means when he says “investing” in the papers. From what I can tell, it means giving reporters new technology and then taking away their chairs. Oh, or recruiting more advertising staff.

    Ashley, please listen: people buy local papers because they have good quality, well researched and useful local stories written by trained journalists. When that’s no longer the case, they stop buying them, and all the iPads in the world won’t stop that. Nor will they buy your app or read your website if the content isn’t up to scratch. Go back to basics and invest in what matters – journalism.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm
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    Too true XJP! To be fair to Ashley Highfield, he has been hamstrung by his predecessors and the financial burden/mis-management they have imposed over the last decade.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm
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    They have put our title up twice this year – with another hike coming with the relaunch by which stage it will be more than a quid.
    All this against a backdrop of readers deserting the relaunched titles and falling sales.
    And still they plough on regardless.
    Such a sad, sorry mess.

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  • October 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm
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    The coffee comparison is rather odd (I’m not entirely sure the kind of elderly folk in Deliverance-style towns served by some of these papers spend much time in Starbucks).
    People are more likely to compare the price of their local paper with the nationals. Sun = 40p, Boston Standard = 50p. To them, that’s a bit like being charged more to watch Boston United than Manchester United. Of course, that is all down to economies of scale, etc, but the punters don’t care about that. They think they are being ripped off.

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  • October 17, 2012 at 8:25 am
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    I have a friend who works in a Johnston’s office.

    The office is filthy and barely habitable.
    I feel for the poor journalists who work in such conditions.

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  • October 17, 2012 at 8:32 am
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    Let’s do some sums. Imagine a weekly title that sells, on average, 15,000 copies a week at 70p a copy over a 6-month period. That would generate gross cover price revenue of £273k. Let’s assume the cover price remains the same but sales decline at a rate of 6%. That would mean a reduction in gross cover price revenue for the next 6-month period to £256,620. But let’s imagine an alternative scenario, one where cover price is increased to 90p and sales decline at a greater rate – let’s go for a 15% decline. Unless my maths is wrong (every chance!), gross cover price revenues over a 6-month period would go UP to £298,350. (Even a decline of 20% in sale would result in revenue gains, not losses)

    Yes, it’s short-termist. No, it doesn’t bode well for the response advertisers will receive, nor for the long-term sustainability of the title. But if it was your money, what would you do?

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  • October 17, 2012 at 10:49 am
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    The people who run these newspapers must live in a parallel universe. They appear to act on the whims of their paymasters with scant regard for either their staff or the consequence of their actions.

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  • October 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm
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    Readers will soon get over the novelty of the new JP designs. Then they will start looking at real news rather than snooze content and wonder where it went.

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  • October 17, 2012 at 4:34 pm
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    Every JP editor would be delighted with a 5% year-on-year circulation decline. In one region, where the local MD spends most days watching horse racing in his office, even the weekly titles are running at declines of 15-20%, a rate which will soon accelerate when cover prices go up.

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  • October 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm
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    Oi Number cruncher! Racing? I’ll have you know that I’m currently nuts deep in yet another strategic review of my staff roster and, phew, let me tell you it’s damn hard work. Still, better than a poke in the eye.
    But you sunshine, you’re out.
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    .
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    What? You’ve already left?
    Oh well, where’s my form guide. Hmm, might go each way on the content editors…

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  • October 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm
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    ‘Number cruncher’ should name names. Which MD? What titles?

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