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Fears for future of independent print titles as cuts warning issued

Jonathan Heawood 2022The number of print titles produced by independent publishers has dropped in the past year – with a warning more could follow due to rising costs.

A report by the Public Interest News Foundation has revealed some independent titles around the country are considering sacrificing their print editions in order to save their operations from closing for good.

Only 27pc of the 100 publishers involved in a survey by PINF reported now having any print circulation, down from around half of the 72 involved in last year’s poll.

Those who do produce a print product reported an average total annual circulation of 130,000.

PINF’s survey has also found that, while the number of full-time equivalent staff working on such titles has increased in the past year from an average of 2.6 to 29, the total number of staff employed in any way fell to 3.6 people from 4.5 people last year.

The report estimated the average revenue of independent news publishers now stands at £89,000, a 19pc increase from £74,000.

But it cited a series of revenue challenges facing publishers including difficulties attracting advertisers, ‘hitting the ceiling of time/ability/money’, ‘increasing capacity to match our ambition’ and ‘people will not voluntarily pay for news’.

Other respondents spoke of the fragility of their situation and of ‘surviving on the goodwill of volunteers’.

The report added: “In terms of cost challenges, publishers mentioned high inflation in print costs, and almost as many discussed cutting print runs entirely or partially. Several talked of the cost-of-living crisis and the difficulty in maintaining wages in line with inflation.

“A few publishers said they would try to switch technology providers to cut costs. Two publishers said they were considering leaving their office space to work from home. One publisher mentioned that they were spending from reserves to invest in ‘space, people and assets’ and hoped to rebuild reserves again next year.”

PINF director Jonathan Heawood, pictured, said: “Independent publishers still face huge challenges. Revenues may be on the rise, but so are costs. Publishers need to make savings – but, in the words of one respondent, ‘there is nothing left to cut.’

“And there is still unhappiness in the sector about the advantages enjoyed by corporate publishers, who continue to receive the lion’s share of public funding, whilst laying off journalists and closing newspaper titles.

“All the same, there are reasons to be optimistic. This sector has a long way to go, but it has many of the skills and attributes it needs to do so.

“That’s why, at PINF, we are determined to work with the independent publishers of today and tomorrow, so that they can sustainably inform and empower the communities they serve.”