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Dyson at Large: Readers lament ‘digital-only’ move

The Reading Post and Get Reading, its free sister title, are disappearing as newspapers in what Trinity Mirror has described as a “bold digital-only publishing transformation” after “phenomenal [online] audience growth”.

But this upbeat announcement on 14 November was greeted with sadness rather than elation by many loyal readers of those weekly papers, including Stephen Derek, who contributed the Post’s lead letter on 19 November.

Reading Post

“For several decades past have I subscribed to this paper,” wrote Mr Derek, pointing out that “not everybody has a computer or tablet immediately available”.

He added: “Much local news has been usefully obtained, often conveniently during evening snacks, or when travelling by train or bus, for as pages are turned a news item, or advert, can readily be spotted – not quite so easy when scrolling down a computer screen.”

Another missive to the Post, headlined ‘Any chance of a Post change of heart?’, came from reader Mary Winsby, who wrote: “The problem is not everyone who loves to read papers have or can afford the internet.

“I’m sure some elderly people really look forward to having the paper and will really miss it when it goes … I definitely prefer to read the actual paper.”

And Tony Harvey, who poignantly signed himself off as a ‘former employee from June 1965 to October 2008’, wrote: “Sad news about the Reading Post. It’s even more regrettable as you would have been 50 on September 14 next year.”

Meanwhile, David Cruttenden wrote: “This is a bad, bad decision – not everyone reads online and people still enjoy reading papers. Ten years ago the Reading Evening Post was brilliant, full of excellent news and outstanding creative adverts.

“Now with the website-only move and it being so hard to access and manoeuvre around, it really is a terrible move. Where else now to see your picture in the paper when you have good news to report?”

Mr Cruttenden was referring to when the Post was an evening paper before the Guardian Media Group, its then owners, converted it into two weeklies in 2009, then selling them to Trinity Mirror in 2010.

In what now seems like a bizarre move, Trinity Mirror had previously sold the competing Reading Chronicle to the Scottish-based Romanes Media Group in 2007, and this weekly paper will soon become the only paid-for print title in town.

The Reading Chronicle

To try to make sense of these Reading newspaper machinations, here’s my comparison of the competing titles’ essential statistics.

Circulation: according to the latest ABC figures, the soon-to-be-closed Post sold 5,972 copies a week at 70p a time in the second half of 2013, bringing in cover price revenues that I estimate to have been at least £200,000 a year, and giving away another 6,417 copies.

Meanwhile, the Post’s mainly-free GetReading sister title sold another 3,319 at 70p, adding another £111,500 or so in revenues, which helped fund the home deliveries of another 61,866 copies.

Such revenues were much tighter for the surviving Chronicle which only sold 4,804 copies a week at 70p a time, or around £160,000 for the year, with no sales to offset the costs of distributing 55,449 copies of its all-free Reading Midweek edition.

Pagination: on 19 November, the Post contained 92 pages – 44 in the main book, 28 in its Property Post pull-out, 12 in its ‘24seven’ leisure pages and another eight in its Business Post.

On 20 November, the Chronicle contained 172 pages – 72 in the main book, 36 in its Property Chronicle pull-out and another 64 in its largely-commercial ‘Christmas’ shopping magazine.

Advertising: on the same dates, there were around 65 display adverts and six pages of classified ads in the Post, compared to nearly 200 display adverts plus 12 pages of classified ads in the Chronicle, and hundreds more in both titles’ free sister editions.

I don’t know what each paper charged for this advertising space, although I suspect the Trinity Mirror-owned Post was more expensive than what seemed to be a stack-’em-high, sell-’em cheap approach in the independent Chronicle.

Even so, if the above counts are typical, it would seem likely that the Chronicle attracted more advertising revenue than the Post, although it spent more on newsprint to do this, while a thinner Post benefited from far higher circulation revenues.

Both papers, by the way, contained decent enough content, the above newsy fronts being typical of the inside pages, with the Post carrying around 230 stories, compared to about 220 in the Chronicle.

But for once, content isn’t the main focus of this week’s blog, which has instead drawn a picture of Reading’s competitive print marketplace, with more than 14,000 readers buying papers each week, another 125,000 getting free copies and hundreds of advertisers paying for space.

What on earth, then, are the financial details that lie behind a business plan that confidently abandons such a vibrant print market to solely rely on online revenues?

Or is Trinity Mirror simply willing to sacrifice its Reading newspapers for an experiment that it feels has to happen somewhere?

I asked these and many other questions in a blog elsewhere but, despite several requests, the company declined to discuss the issue, other than to repeat its initial announcement about its Berkshire business, which included the closure of the Wokingham & Bracknell Times.

Interestingly, Lesley Potter, editor of the competing Chronicle, has confirmed that it has “absolutely no intention of abandoning print”, which means Reading is now there for the taking – unless Trinity Mirror succeeds in converting the town to digital-only.

Today’s newspapers are, of course, challenged by digital progress, but has the time really come when one medium can profitably survive without the other in an urban area of more than 300,000 people?

While we watch and wait to see, the likes of the above-quoted Mr Derek, Ms Winsby, Mr Harvey and Mr Cruttenden are left feeling both abandoned by their favourite newspaper and isolated by an online future.