Shhh, don’t tell everyone, but Trinity Mirror has just offered thousands of its most loyal customers more than £80 a year to carry on reading one of its regional newspapers.
Until last month, readers paid £1.60 a week for the company’s historic Birmingham Post newspaper; now they can now have it for nothing via a new, free app available on iPads and iPhones – saving them £83.20 over 52 weeks.
There was an average of 4,216 readers paying the full cover price for the weekly Post throughout 2013, and if they all accepted this generous offer it would cost Trinity Mirror more than £350,000 a year in lost cover price revenues.
But before you think Midlands publishing director Marc Reeves and Post editor Stacey Barnfield have completely lost their marbles, understand this: it may be the only way to save the renowned and respected newspaper.
Let me explain: in December last year, Trinity Mirror closed its weekly Liverpool Post because full price sales had fallen to around 5,000 copies a week, (the last recorded weekly average was 5,727 in 2012, but this was understood to have dropped heavily again in 2013).
In the wake of this news, all eyes were on the future of the Birmingham Post, as both papers were former morning dailies that had struggled with the weekly approach.
The Birmingham paper, however, has slightly better vital statistics:
- a cover price 50% higher than its Liverpool sister’s £1 and growing;
- 3,138 ‘bulk’ copies and 600 giveaways added to its 4,216 sales to produce an ABC distribution figure of 7,954 – telling a better readership story to advertisers (Liverpool had no bulks or frees); and
- the Birmingham title is understood to have kept more advertising revenues than its Liverpool counterpart.
Nevertheless, the Birmingham Post’s distribution figures are too low, and if they fall much further the title will struggle to retain commercial backing and probably follow its Liverpool sister into oblivion.
How can it maintain – or even increase – readership without incurring too many extra costs?
Full price sales are falling, but printing more free and bulk copies would be expensive in terms of paper and distribution; and a brave attempt at a daily, paid-for, online tablet edition failed after just seven months earlier this year.
Hence the launch of the free app that provides online access to facsimiles of the weekly newspaper – with the hope that those who might have stopped buying the printed version will continue reading the same thing on their phones and tablets for nothing.
It’s a gamble, of course: as indicated above, if all paying readers decide to switch, the full cost to Trinity Mirror revenues would be a weighty, six-figure sum, which would take substantial extra advertising to replace; but to do nothing in what is now a last chance saloon is not an option.
And if it catches on – as an extra temptation, the Post’s new app offers “live breaking news” as well as the weekly e-edition – the best scenario could be a growth in readership.
It also brings the Post into line with its daily sister, the Birmingham Mail, my old paper, which has offered a free online facsimile since May last year – saving me and other daily readers more than £180 a year.
Not everyone’s going down this free app avenue, however; only last week, HoldtheFrontPage reported on DC Thomson’s Press and Journal in Aberdeen offering a range of digital content behind a metered paywall.
For £10 a month (99p for the first month), readers can have full access to the title’s website; for £15 a month, they can download e-edition facsimiles of the newspaper as well; and for £20 a month, they can also get a daily copy of the printed newspaper.
The Press and Journal, of course, has more to protect: it still boasts a daily ABC figure of 63,796, and hopes its paywall will prevent this falling too rapidly because of totally free, online browsers.
These diverging strategies – and there are other emerging versions across the Western world – remind us that no-one has yet sussed out the best way to continue producing quality, profitable news products in an online world.
While they all continue to experiment, news has definitely become a readers’ market in Birmingham, which means the likes of me, who used to buy both the Mail and the Post, enjoying their online e-editions for free instead, saving £260-plus a year to spend on something else.