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Dyson at Large: Time to respect the remaining print audience

There’s been so much happening at JPIMedia in recent weeks – office closures, another round of job cuts, potential sales of titles, new paywall experiments and ten newspapers closing.

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.

Hartlepool target

 

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?

Then consider the same story for all the other former ‘evening’ titles involved: the Shields Gazette, Sunderland Echo, Lancashire Post, Wigan Post and Blackpool daily The Gazette.

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?

JPIMedia is doing the same for some of its weeklies, with deadlines for the Garstang Courier, Longridge News and Fleetwood Weekly News moving from midnight on Wednesdays to 4.30pm to 5pm on Tuesdays.

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?

23 comments

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  • June 19, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    Trying to make print compete head on with online will not work. The trick is to making print sustainable is to ensure it is different and valuable from what people can get for free on the internet.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    I think the last sentence sums it all up Steve ‘…publishers no longer care what their loyal print readers think”
    At one time ‘ the customer was king’ but no longer . In my view many local papers are seen as a costly intrusion on the real business of likes, clicks and online popularity ,only existing due to the ,albeit dwindling amount of money returned by advertising and cover prices, once they can do away with print titles for good I’m sure most,if not all the bigger groups will close titles without further thought.
    When you consider just how few people buy a local paper these days, that time can’t be too far away,

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  • June 19, 2019 at 11:08 am
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    Steve needs to look at how the free and positive-thinking Hartlepool Life has filled the gap left behind by the Mail. Just the other day, I overheard a shopper in Morrison’s saying she was looking for the “free Mail”.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 12:30 pm
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    During one of the many changes to print production I’ve experienced over the years, I queried the plans which in effect meant stories had to be filed many hours, if not days, before the weekly print slot. When I asked what happens if we are waiting on a court result or something similar on deadline day, I was firmly told ‘we break news online, not in print’.

    The top of media businesses have so little pride in their print titles nowadays it is depressing. Whatever happened in aiming to do the best job possible? Yes, financially times are tougher nowadays, but the slapdash attitude of newspaper bosses is demoralising for staff and leaving readers short-changed. Why would you not want you papers full of ‘current’ affairs?

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  • June 19, 2019 at 12:46 pm
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    Your point is a good one, Richard Weston. Unfortunately, the vast majority of what’s in many regional dailies is stories reverse-published from online, which means it’s hardly different.

    Or only different in that it’s out of date. There are a few spots in some papers filled by print-only journalists which can help, but without last night’s events it’s missing what was once a USP for its ageing but loyal audience.

    They’re leaving at rates of 20-plus% and this tumble will soon avalanche… along with print revenues.

    My point is that publishers need to care about this or else they’ll have no print profits to sustain online investment.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 1:00 pm
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    One of the biggest ‘What the hell?’ moments happened in Portsmouth a couple of years ago. The Sports Mail used to hit the streets on a Saturday evening…snapped up by fans.
    Then JP said: ‘Hang on a minute, we have a printing press in Portsmouth but let’s get the completed pages sent all the way oop North to Dinnington. We can then truck the printed copies back down to Portsmouth so they will be on sale in the shops on Sunday.’😃

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  • June 19, 2019 at 2:31 pm
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    I don’t think a week goes by without depressing news about local papers. Glad I’m out of it and can say I worked when times were good looking back. Filing back at 1pm for the same days paper was stressful, but contributed towards a quality product that people bought in their tens of thousands.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 2:41 pm
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    One JPI paper “hub”centre with hardly enough proper journos to get paper out is shedding nearly ten jobs. What price quality? Point well made Steve D. Editing standards on JPI weeklies are frankly dismal because they don’t have enough good editing/reporting staff.

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  • June 19, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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    I simply can’t understand the companies obsession with digital especially as it has proved impossible to properly monetise. I believe that, especially with local weeklies, digital should be abandoned and readers given no choice but print. Put out a quality local paper and only use a website to promote that week’s paper. If there is a hard breaking news story then on the website briefly cover it and say ‘full story and pictures in Friday’ s paper’. Giving news away free on websites and competing against your paid for print title is seriously insane. U fortunately newspaper boards are greedy and see digital as a way to drastically cut costs. Yes it does that but it doesn’t bring in much money so its a lose/lose situation. The attempt to force people onto digital has killed off print but also killed off money streams. Its time to go back to print by denying free news on websites and putting out a great quality print product. It wasn’t broken so why fix it?

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  • June 19, 2019 at 5:06 pm
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    Dave S. fighting daily deadlines on a proper evening paper where quality mattered was a wonderful challenge and better fun than pushing out pap every day.

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  • June 20, 2019 at 11:02 am
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    I’m starting to think @The Dead Digital Horse is the CEO of JPI Media. 😉

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  • June 20, 2019 at 11:33 am
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    Dead Digital Horse – “The attempt to force people onto digital has killed off print but also killed off money streams” > People aren’t forced onto digital – they choose it.

    How many people do you see on a bus now reading a newspaper versus people reading their mobile phones? You have to face facts the method of consuming newspaper content has changed forever.

    Its simply not a viable business strategy for newspaper groups to ignore the online readership they’ll get even further left behind than they are now.

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  • June 20, 2019 at 11:51 am
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    As much as I dislike the obsession with digital, despite the fact that companies have no chance whatsoever in ever making it pay, Webmonkey is right. “If there is a hard breaking news story then on the website briefly cover it and say ‘full story and pictures in Friday’s paper’.” I don’t know what world The Dead Digital Horse is living in, but it can’t be the real one. People won’t wait until Friday (or the following day in the case of a daily) for a story any more – they’ll search online to find it or will have lost interest by then because something bigger and more shiny will have come along in the meantime.

    Steve is, of course, quite right in that print customers are being taken for a complete ride, now that they are expected to pay on day two for an inferior product which was free online on day one. But if the Hartlepool Mail is selling only 3.234 a day all of this is academic now. (Down from 5,070 in the second half of 2016, just for the record.) It won’t last two years as a printed product, and will soon go weekly, I imagine. Then once that newspaper income stream is removed I wouldn’t give the website much longer. It’s just the way things are now.

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  • June 20, 2019 at 1:03 pm
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    20% sales declines were happening before overnight printing and earlier deadlines came into play – just look at Birmingham (sometimes called the Birmingham Evening) Mail in the 2000s. No-one could say that wasn’t invested in, and still sales fell by 20% or more. They weren’t moving online then, or at least not to the Mail online.

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  • June 20, 2019 at 2:26 pm
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    Your point is partly right, tippex, but overstated. Circulation declines on major regional dailies were usually in single and often low single figures in the 2000s, and occasionally in very small growth.

    On some titles declines were at times in double figures, but not until the mid-2000s and “20% or more” was exceptional. (These statements simply reflect ABC records.)

    Meanwhile, the move online WAS starting in the 2000s, albeit these were early days and measurements were chopped and changed.

    Online growth quickened from 2005, digital audiences growing substantially each year.

    Funnily enough, that growth increased even more when the rush for saving millions via overnight publication began – regardless of how much bosses scorn the impact of such changes.

    I predict such scorn will only increase today, despite print products’ declining quality/value.

    “You can’t stop progress,” they say. Yeah, right. Nor can you stop customers deserting paying for products when those products’ worth declines.

    Then someone, somewhere, will say: “We’re closing the Daily News [or whichever paper] because no-one wants it any more.”

    But will that closure eventually consume digital iterations? Or will such digital iterations be able to afford real journalism without what was once the huge subsidy of print?

    And whoever’s right or wrong, the communities who were once happy to invest hard-earned pounds into those print titles are becoming less and less served by local journalism.

    Some progress.

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  • June 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm
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    No, not the fault of the internet, tippex, but yes, the fault of those who worship the internet god at the expense of other media. It will be like the king’s birthday suit… you’ll suddenly realise you are wearing no clothes! Show no respect to your audience, and that is where it leads. There’s still hope for those print and online media who are trying to do that (respect their audience).

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  • June 21, 2019 at 9:39 am
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    As soon as profits from print started to sink, owners panicked and tried to find a new cash cow in technology. What they should have done is consolidated what they had and ridden out what is partly simply a passing craze for the new. As the resurgence of vinyl LPs shows, there will always be a good market for physical products over digital. It’s the same, I suspect, with weekly local newspapers. Use the websites for breaking news and the print edition for more detailed and reflective coverage.

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  • June 21, 2019 at 9:39 am
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    Man writes column on the internet despite hating the internet! Worshipping any platform is wrong, internet or print. Not sure how making the internet your top priority when it’s where most of your readers are is a show of lack of respect, unless we only respect readers prepared to pay for news – in which case ITV News doesn’t need to show its viewers and respect, or the Metro.

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  • June 21, 2019 at 9:48 am
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    You have a selected read mentality tippex. I love the internet! And the best media players are mixing it thoughtfully with print to retain loyalty and revenues from the latter as long as possible, helping investment into the online future. Some regionals are doing that too. Not all. I take it you’re not … if my hunch is right and you’re the person I think you are. Long live your anonymity 😉

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  • June 21, 2019 at 10:32 am
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    I bought the Hartlepool Mail every day for almost 50 years and before that read it almost every day since I first learned to read although for the last few years it was more from habit than content.The final straw that broke my back was when they removed the discount for paying my subscription by direct debit, as soon as that ended I stopped my daily deliveries and have never bought or even looked at another copy in more than a year and have not missed it in the slightest.I now only buy one paper each Sunday and receive the rest of my local and national news through TV and the internet.The biggest factor in the decline of the Hartlepool Mail was the decision to close the local office and print works so that the paper could no longer be described as local.In times past there were early and late editions and also a section known as the “stop press” in which local late news or sports results could be added at the last minute before printing,this is no longer possible so any “news” is now one or two days old before anyone reads it which is just pointless in a supposed daily paper?

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