25 October 2014

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Editor’s blog: Why Claire Enders was wrong about newspaper closures

On 16 June, 2009, the media analyst Claire Enders told a committee of MPs that half of the local and regional newspapers in the UK would close within the  next five years.

The US-born founder and chief executive of Enders Analysis, who had made her name predicting the dotcom crash of the early noughties, told a hearing of the Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee that “many titles” were already losing money and were being sustained only by beneficent publishers.

“We are expecting that up to half of all the 1,300 titles will close in the next five years,” Ms Enders told the committee.

Her comments, which were taken at face value by many in the business world,  set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry during which the defining media narrative about the local press became one of irreversible decline.

As today marks the fifth anniversary of Ms Enders’ infamous prophecy of doom, I thought it would be a good moment for HoldtheFrontPage to take stock of how her predictions turned out in reality.

Obtaining a precise figure for the number of local newspapers that have closed since the start of the recession in 2008 is not easy, but whatever the exact number, it is clear that her initial estimate of 650 has proved way off-beam.

Our own estimate, based on the stories we have covered on this site, is that there have been just over 100.  Many of those were free newspapers.   Others were titles that were folded into neighbouring sister titles, for example the Bridlington Gazette and Herald, now part of the Bridlington Free Press.

Only one, the Liverpool Post, went from being a paid-for regional daily at the time of Ms Enders original forecast to outright closure within that timescale.

Okay, so people sometimes get it wrong.  In my days as a political journalist I made numerous predictions about political events that failed to come to pass – that Alan Johnson would lead the Labour Party into the last election, and that the Tory Lib-Dem Coalition would not last beyond three years, to name but two.

But unlike Ms Enders, I wasn’t paid a small fortune for making those wrong predictions, and neither, more importantly, were peoples’ jobs and livelihoods at stake.

The problem with Ms Enders’ pronouncements was that they were so widely believed at the time that they seemed likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about the future of the industry.

Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case – largely because, contrary to what Ms Enders told the committee, very few local and regional titles were actually being propped up by “beneficent” publishers.  Most were – and still remain – profitable.

Looking at the list we have put together below, a clear economic pattern emerges.  The wave of closures at the start of the recession – which under Ms Enders’ scenario would have continued to increase exponentially year-on-year – began to tail off with the partial recovery of 2010 before accelerating again in 2011 and 2012 as the ‘double-dip’ took hold.

But the ensuing two years have seen a much more sustained fall in the number of closures as the general improvement in the economy has gathered pace.

It is not an exhaustive list – publishers do not always tell us when they are closing newspapers, and we are then reliant on our industry sources to find out – but we try very hard to bring you comprehensive coverage of what’s going on in this great industry of ours, and I would be surprised if there were more than a handful that we missed.

And in any case, the really important thing about this list is not the 102 titles that are on it – but the 1,198 that aren’t.

2014 (7)

Hereford Journal
Elmbridge Guardian
Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle
Westminster Chronicle
Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle
Carrickfergus Advertiser
Ballyclare Gazette

2013 (4)

Liverpool Post
Bedford Midweek
Oxford Star
Lambeth Post

2012 (12)

Cambridge First
Kidderminster Chronicle
Portsmouth Journal
Mansfield and Ashfield Observer
Worksop Trader
Doncaster Advertiser
Chesterfield Advertiser (since relaunched as a magazine)
Streatham Guardian (continued online)
Enfield Gazette (continued online)
Thanet Times
Prestwich Advertiser
Donegal Democrat

2011 (18)

Wear Valley Mercury
Yeovil Express
Yeovil Times
East Kent Gazette
Medway News
Bridgwater and Burnham Times
Darlington and South Durham Herald and Post
Your Leek Paper
Cannock Chase Post
Stafford Post
Sutton Coldfield News
Nottingham Recorder
Harlow Scene
East Herts Scene
Bucks Free Press Midweek
Woking News and Mail (since reopened under new ownership)
Woking Review
Bridlington Gazette and Herald

2010 (6)

Worthing Sentinel
Orkney Today
Filey Mercury
North Edinburgh News
Hounslow and Brentford Times
Lakeland Echo (continued online)

2009 (22)

London Lite
Neath Guardian
Wrexham Chronicle
Mid-Cheshire Chronicle
Lichfield Post
Tamworth Times
Burton Trader
Walsall Observer
South Tyne Chronicle Extra
North Tyneside Chronicle Extra
North-East Exclusive
City Living
Times series (Teesside)
Yarm Town Crier
Bedworth Echo
Rugby Times
Loughorough Trader Xtra,
Ashby Trader & Echo
Coalville Echo
Wandsworth Borough News
Weston & Worle News
Port Talbot Courier

2008 (33)

Blackpool Citizen
Preston Citizen
Lancaster Citizen
Westmorland Messenger
Congleton Guardian
Macclesfield Community News
Hale Community News
Knutsford Community News
Wilmslow and Bramhall Community News
La Nua (The Day)
Bromley Extra
Bexley Extra
Spalding Target
Long Eaton Advertiser
Long Eaton Trader
Nu News
Abergele Visitor
Rhyl & Prestatyn Visitor
Your Vale
Midweek Advertiser (Ormskirk)
Huyton & Roby Star
Formby Times
Ayrshire Extra
Glasgow East News
Bridgend Post
Derby Trader
Ilkeston Trader
Ripley Trader
Peterborough Herald and Post
Stamford Herald and Post
Whittlesey Standard
Deepings Standard
Belper Bugle

Total – 102

14 Comments

  1. ill-informed

    Well done, HTFP, this is a great article. More of this in future, please.

    Re tracking numbers of UK regional newspapers – the Newspaper Society database is a good, although not completely infallible, source of such info.

    Graham

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  2. Gimmers84, London

    Locally I’ve seen a couple of newspapers go from dailies to weeklies. How many did that happen to across the UK?

    Lots of papers remain profitable but only because advertising rates, compared to other local media, are bafflingly high. How can a local paper charge with a circulation of barely 20,000 charge 3 times the price for an ad when the local radio station has 4 times the listenership. This tells of problems in both industries and surely is not sustainable for both.

    Some recent research suggested that less than 5% of 16-24 year olds read a local paper. If this habit doesn’t change as they get older then surely there are some searching questions to be asked by the whole local newspaper industry over the next few years. A recent example I have – a newly appointed local council marketing manager didn’t read the local paper so switched the councils media spend completely to local radio because it was ‘cheaper and more people heard the ads’. The old 55 year old marketing manager solely used the local paper. My point being that if local papers don’t start engaging younger people at all levels, readers and decision makers, then the future doesn’t look bright.

    Many local papers have a much better online presence these days but plenty don’t. This is the ideal opportunity to engage that younger demographic but sadly I feel it’s too little too late for many.

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  3. Scoop

    The next big collapse is coming though. When a 63-year-old like my mum, once terrified of computers, no longer buys newspapers as she can see it all on her tablet it’s a massive sign of what’s to come. Newspapers as we know them will wither and die. They are unsustainable. Those last figures from Trinity Mirror are truly appalling

    Title May-14 May 2013 % Change
    Birmingham Mail 37,064 42,593 -12.98
    Coventry Telegraph 22,984 26,939 -14.68
    Huddersfield Daily Examiner 15,688 17,419 -9.94
    Liverpool Echo 64,374 76,378 -15.72
    Liverpool Sunday Echo 21,919 0 0.00
    Manchester Evening News 73,154 74,145 -1.34
    Newcastle Chronicle 37,382 42,212 -11.44
    North Wales Daily Post 27,147 28,235 -3.85
    South Wales Echo 22,496 26,630 -15.52
    Sunday Mercury 26,734 31,400 -14.86
    Sunday Sun 32,369 37,248 -13.10
    Teesside Evening Gazette 27,977 31,983 -12.53
    The Journal 17,732 20,502 -13.51
    Wales on Sunday 16,332 20,097 -18.73
    Western Mail 22,041 23,717 -7.07

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  4. John Nurden, Kent

    I have always maintained reports of the death of newspapers have been exaggerated.
    The clue to the secret of success for local papers is in the name: give readers the local news they want and they will continue to buy. Give them rubbish and they won’t. The Sheerness Times Guardian serving the Isle of Sheppey is a perfect example of a paper knowing its market well.
    Much has also been written about the problems of an increasing, elderly population, mainly concerning healthcare. But this is the one section of the population which still prefers print. And it is growing!
    I notice there have also been a number of successful launches of magazines (proving there is still a demand) in areas where bigger companies have killed off established newpapers on the advice of finance directors dsperate to increase returns to short-term shareholders.
    Here endeth the first lesson…

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  5. JP stone thrower

    I don’t think many 16-year-olds have ever read their local papers much. Not in 1950, 1970 or at any time. It’s something that grows on you with age.
    However, newspapers must surely face a big challenge to survive in newsprint form. Lots of people I know in their sixties and seventies cannot be bothered with paper any more, getting all their information from the telly or laptops. They admit they miss out on local news, but it doesn’t seem to matter to them, ie it’s too trivial now that the world has opened up online.

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  6. Jeff

    She was wrong but only by a year or two and only in titles – if anyone can be arsed it would be interesting to work out what percentage of her deathly predictions had come true in terms of circulation.
    Just look at the TM rate of decline above – critical – can’t last.

    A low cost – work from home – roving ad reps – freelancer backed weekly could definitely still work in the right areas with a defined community. Get the numbers right with a free weekly (backed by web/social media etc) and it could still work. The key is in keeping the costs hammered down. Even with the slashing that has gone on under NQ/JP/TM the business models are not sustainable.

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  7. Peter Godson, East London, South Africa

    No one can argue with your conclusion that Claire Enders was wrong – half of the locals and regionals haven’t closed as she predicted. But could the fact that so few titles have closed be a result of the moves taken by newspaper managements following her dire warning in 2009? You say her warning set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry. Did it also result in such actions as downsizing, the rise of subbing hubs and other cost-saving measures.Perhaps such moves saved financially shaky papers from going under. However, we all know the battle has just begun if newspapers, generally, are not going to swamped by the electronic media in the medium term.

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  8. reader, uk

    Yes, she was wrong, but not for long. My once superb local paper lost 50 per cent sales over a few years, now looks like a kid put it together with a John Bull outfit and fills with generic “news” (not local) and submitted crap I am told known as User Generated Copy, whatever that it.
    Congrats though to the hard working staff struggling to keep these papers alive. They deserve better top management.

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  9. reader, uk

    Give it time. Once readers twig they are being conned with poor quality papers with a large smearing of rubbish sent in copy. My local has dropped from 14,000 to about 6, 500 in about eight years despite herculean efforts of a sadly reduced staff. The staff deserve medals for keeping such papers alive , but it cant last.

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  10. Declan McSweeney, Manchester

    One title omitted is the Offaly Express, closed in 2012 by Johnston Press.

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  11. Alan Cooke, Sunderland

    The biggest downfall of the ‘newspaper’ is for the last five years or so, they have asked the readers to go ‘on line’ in thier own publications and not to buy a newspaper.

    Report this comment

  12. Oliver, Nottingham

    Yes, Alan, of course that’s the reason!

    Report this comment

  13. design for life

    a load more just from personal experience (all JP titles, frees I think) – Fife Leader North and South, Fife Herald, the Falkirk & Grangemouth Advertiser, West Lothian Herald & Post, Glasgow Extra Paisley and West End. Though as you say, publishers do not always tell us when they are closing newspapers!

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  14. Get With It, North

    OK she was wrong, it wasn’t five years – seven or eight may be more likely. But it WILL happen. The world has moved on, newspapers haven’t and the people running them, by and large, are still living in the dark ages and trying to fix modern day problems with olden day solutions.

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