AddThis SmartLayers

Former JP chairman backs subscription model for local press

cover-version-f_8-12-2016The former chairman of Johnston Press has said that local print publishers will need to adopt an online subscription model to survive.

In the second of a series of extracts from a new book on the future of print, Roger Parry says that offering ‘free’ online content should be seen only as a ‘pathway’ to creating paid subscribers.

Roger, a former BBC and ITV journalist, chaired the regional publisher’s board between 2001 and 2009 and is now chairman of the polling organisation YouGov.

He says only a very few daily newspapers will survive and that most local print publications will be “artefacts” designed to enhance an overall multimedia offering.

Says Roger: “Local news, features and advertising still matter but the way people will get them has changed. The role of print in delivering them has to be modified.

“So is there a future. Yes. And in fact it is relatively easy to describe the business model most likely to work. But, for a traditional newspaper company it is very hard to get there from here.

“The future of local media is a subscription-based relationship offering a multimedia solution. Work out what people will pay for, in terms of both content and format, and offer it to them.

“Easy to say. Hard to do. But what is clear is the daily publication, produced on newsprint and distributed by retail outlets is almost certainly not the answer.

“Your content is local information but let your audience decide how they access it. The printed weekly, the website, Facebook, the smartphone.

“Your readers will use you the way they want to. Just make sure any material offered free is on a pathway to creating a loyal subscriber.

‘Free’ is a sample offer, it cannot be the whole service. Despite what some at The Guardian once thought, there is simply not enough advertising, certainly on a local basis, to pay for a quality product.

“Local media has to be multi-media to deliver what the audience wants, and on subscription to pay the bills.”

In his chapter, entitled ‘Local papers – after the fall,’ Roger also called for a more wholesale move towards user-generated content.

“Local news is expensive to collect. It is far better if you can get enthusiastic and skilled local people to do it for nothing. And they will,” he wrote.

“Professional journalists still have a vital role to play in commissioning and curating this material, and in taking the lead on investigations and campaigns.

“But a small group of skilled and experienced ‘hacks’ working across a group of papers in a region can orchestrate a huge amount of quality output.”

Roger concludes that the local paper of the future will “look far more like a magazine” and wil be weekly except in “a very few major cities.”

“News will come from a small team of professional journalists organised on a regional basis serving a dozen or more titles with a network of largely unpaid stringers and correspondents at a local and micro-local level,” he wrote.

“The printed weekly will be in a way an artefact, an object to have around the house which affirms membership of, and interest in, a local community. The way that Vogue or Country Life enhance a dentist’s waiting room, or the FT and Wall Street Journal adorn an investment bank.

“Local print will not vanish but it will find a radically new role as part of a multi-media offering.”

The chapter can be read in full here.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • December 13, 2016 at 9:10 am

    At last the penny has dropped giving away free news dosen’t pay,myself along with hundreds of ex JP colleagues have been shouting this out for years.The problem they have got is that the increase in hits for there web sites that JP are always proud off,will fall equally in their thousands once people have to pay for this third rate news service,has I’ve said on numerous occasions people will click on when its free ‘Owt for nowt’.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(26)
  • December 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

    This won’t work for weeklies. Why? The quality of news is not interesting enough to pay to go on a website. 90 per cent of my local JP paper is mundane, and I am afraid nowadays it often does not have the saving grace of being local news.
    My theory is people (though a lot fewer now) will pay 80p to a quid to flick through a weekly printed paper and skip the boring bits.
    But they won’t bother paying and going on to a local website to see what the Lions, Rotary, WI etc have been up to.
    Especially when a lot of them have written it themselves!
    I hope I am wrong about this if it ever happens, for the sake of all of us working in the media.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(17)
  • December 13, 2016 at 11:58 am

    People will pay for good content. I was the editor of the Chorley & Leyland Guardian for 6 years from 2006-11 and we grew our circulation from circa 13,000 to circa 13,300 during that time. Our mantra was two-fold:
    1. If it happened in Chorley and Leyland it had to be in the Guardian; and
    2. If we couldn’t be first with the news we had to be the best with it.
    However people won’t buy a newspaper for £1 out of blind loyalty if they can get the same content elsewhere for free. Content is king.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(8)
  • December 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    JP tried this about six or seven years ago with a few weekly papers and it was quickly shelved when no-one signed up to pay.

    I worked on one of the papers and was told that the number of subscriptions was 20, which included the 12 the staff had to get on expenses to look at our own website as they had not built in editor accounts for those who needed to be able to see that stories were going up properly.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(10)
  • December 13, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Parry’s piece is well researched and presented and I, at least, can’t argue with much that he says.
    However, the real problem with local weeklies/dailies is that there is no longer a community. With so much population churn, there is no city, town or village without a significant number of incomers – who have no affinity or social connection to their new home.
    Where once people bought the paper for news about their neighbours – BMDs, local villains, council shenanigans, classified ads – now all they want is infotainment or analysis of the big local issues which might affect them (planning applications, major road developments, etc).
    The rest they can get off the internet – for free.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(4)
  • December 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Why dont JP just go away snd leave small local companies to run weekly papers. Big dosen’t work for local weeklies and JP are running once quality papers into the ground in persuit of their digital dream. It is quite clear by now after years of trying that DIGITAL DOSEN’T WORK. There is still profits out there for local businessmen/women who are up fpr running smallish weekly papers in the traditional way.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(15)
  • December 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    I’m afraid I take a different view. Yes, I would pay – and have done in the past – to read a daily paper’s regularly updated website, but I’m certainly not going to pay to read a poor quality local paper which has an overload of charity ‘news’ and listings for events I’m not interested in.

    As for the columns written by a local head teacher, police boss, garden centre and the like, they scream of being a cheap way to fill the pages, not very good and not particularly interesting.

    When the paper starts covering courts properly and following up cases that go to crown court, I’ll reconsider.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(21)
  • December 13, 2016 at 6:45 pm

    “Local news is expensive to collect. It is far better if you can get enthusiastic and skilled local people to do it for nothing. And they will” – What world is Roger Parry living in??? 99.9 per cent of free contributions are diabolical!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(8)
  • December 14, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Ex JP Editor .
    With you all the way. 99.9 per cent of free contributions go on a page without proper editing, from what I have seen, especially on sport.

    By the way, why do some HTFP contributors keep saying ” for free”.
    Something is either “free” or “for nothing”. As in “he got in free” or “He got in for nothing”. Geddit? And I don’t care what the Yanks say!

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(2)