As the hedge-fund owned company fights fires on various fronts, there’s possibly no time for any executive to listen to, let alone heed, any advice on the old-fashioned printed newspaper strategy front.
But just in case anyone at JPIMedia is listening, they should be very, very careful with their remaining print-focused audience.
I’m talking about news that six of the group’s regional titles are adopting even earlier deadlines – with some dailies now planning to be away from the editorial floor as early at 7.15pm.
Yes, I can imagine that flood of “So what?” comments, especially from regional editorial chiefs who can’t understand why anyone is even thinking of wasting their time worrying about whether or not that works.
After all, they might say: “Who cares what time any regional printed title is cut off from breaking news and live evening sports results when anyone really interested can simply click online to find out what they thought they might have missed?”
Except that this is not how regional audiences behave, especially those who are still buying and relying on the printed product in 2019.
As an example, let’s think about the expectations of readers of the Hartlepool Mail, it being one of the papers due to close shop at 7.15pm each day.
It has a daily audience of some 8,000 by the way, based on the approximate assumption that each of its 3,234 copies bought has around 2.5 readers.
Those readers are still buying the paper for various habitual reasons, one of the main ones being that it will carry the latest news and sports results.
What will they think when buying the paper the day after a major news event that happened post-7.15pm – a fatal fire, major accident or ugly episode of crime or violence – when there is no reference to it in their Mail?
The same goes when Hartlepool United FC play a mid-week match: there are more than 3,000 local fans on average watching each game, and a chunk of them are used to reading the match report in the next day’s Mail.
Will those traditional newspaper readers feel cheated that their 73p-a-day purchase no longer contains what they were until now used to reading?
All those papers are changing what were last copy deadlines of between 1am and 2am to anything between 7.15pm and 9pm, depending on their slot on a distant printing press.
And taken together, that means tens of thousands of readers having yet another reason not to buy the printed newspaper that until now was able to include anything of import that had happened the previous day and evening.
We’ve had a similar challenge before, of course, around ten years ago when regional ‘evenings’ were going overnight, changing what were on-day morning and afternoon deadlines into midnight or early morning deadlines.
But back then those editorial floors, new desks and editors who took the job seriously made sure their teams were able to make changes late into the night to keep readers as up-to-date as possible.
The main news and sports results up to midnight were all in the next day’s paper, and while there were live on-day events missing it was at least as current as any national newspaper in terms of reporting local events.
This will no longer be the case for the above-mentioned northern audiences: even assuming they are buying their paper as early as 9am, it will have nothing in it that happened in the last 12 to 14 hours, shutting a whole window of news and sport content.
This shows little respect for readers that have stuck with the paper through thick and thin, local people who have still been paying more than £220 a year (at least 310 days x 73p). Will this investment in old news continue?
That’s more than 30 hours earlier, thereby excluding any Wednesday night sports fixtures and a whole tranche of midweek news.
This means weekly audiences will be served with an ever-more weekend and early week version of the world in what was traditionally an end-of-week read.
These changes are just a slither of what’s been heaped onto all printed newspaper readers in the last decade, cumulatively resulting in content that’s not as rich, not as recent and not as new.
Again, cynics might say: “Who cares? Printed audiences are declining anyway, and the best, most recent reads are online, so anyone who wants it simply needs to catch up with technology.”
Yes, they might say that, and as those most-loyal readers finally stop their print diet, publishers will have even less circulation and advertising revenues which until now subsidised online operations.
“Change happens, and we all have to get used to it,” might be another refrain, and there are so many examples of modern media where that’s the right thing to say.
But when you’ve got a captive audience paying small fortunes for a product, you’ve got to consider how far that custom can be pushed before it realises that it’s wasting its money.
And then you’ll need to plan how to exist without those thousands of cover price revenues, and without all the print advertising that follows that.
The message to JPIMedia – and any other publishers thinking of “more efficient” deadlines – is to consider whether those changing times show enough respect to a print audience that is fast losing its patience.
Or are we really at an end stage where publishers no longer care what their loyal print readers think?