The regional press industry is facing a “massive exodus” of weekly newspapers in the next three years, a new report has warned.
A new study by media research firm Enders Analysis has claimed it is “certain” that weeklies will either close entirely or be forced to go online-only in the next three years as “industrial print provision enters its final phase.”
In a wide-ranging review into the UK regional press, Enders has also called for the Government’s new Digital Markets Unit to prioritise helping titles that publish more local content online and has urged publishers to stop “trying to second-guess the needs of search or social media algorithms”.
The firm previously shocked the industry by claiming in 2009 that 650 of the country’s 1,300 local and regional titles would close within five years. The actual figure turned out to be just over 100.
The company later admitted the infamous prediction had been “unnecessarily pessimistic” and has declined in its new report to put a figure on how many weeklies it believes are at risk of closure in the coming years – estimating that in fact around 270 regional titles had shut between 2005 and 2022.
It instead based its claim on the fact that such titles’ circulations have declined faster than dailies over the past five years.
The report’s authors wrote: “Average reported daily titles are now under 10,000 copies, and the equivalent weekly average has fallen below 2,500. The unit costs of supply are becoming intolerable.
“In our view, the risk of a massive weekly newspaper market exodus in the next three years keeps growing, and it is certain many more titles will close – become online-only – in the next decade than the previous.”
“The reason we fear an exodus of weekly newspapers in the coming years is online versions cannot easily achieve offline visibility, nor the specific benefits, such as lucrative print advertising, of physical editions.
“Print advertising, meanwhile, has declined much more than circulation over the last 20 years, though has also steadied a little in more recent years.”
The report concludes that although print will continue indefinitely, it will be at a much lower scale.
“This report considers the next three to five years to be a critical period for local media, as industrial print provision enters its final phase (print will continue indefinitely, but at a lower scale), during which businesses have to transform themselves into sustainable digital media,” it says.
Looking at the industry’s fortunes online, the researchers found regional press websites are capable of attracting “huge traffic” but also warned of the industry’s reliance on those reading them via search engines and social media.
“The risk is publishers – journalists, producers, traffic experts -spend more time, or too much time, trying to second-guess the needs of search or social media algorithms rather than originating news stories of value to their readers and potential readers, irrespective of how search or social media ‘score’ them,” the report says.
To address this, Enders urged the Digital Markets Unit, which aims to resolve price disputes between tech platforms and publishers, to “incentivise local journalism content origination, not simply reward traffic to giant publisher sites”.
The researchers said: “This report contends the DMU should take a particular interest in how platforms carry, highlight and support local news provision.
“This report encourages the UK regime to emphasise the disproportionate value of sustainable local media and the risks of failing to deliver on them.
“The system should incentivise local journalism content origination, not simply reward traffic to giant publisher sites.”
Owen Meredith, chief executive of trade body the News Media Association, which funded the report, said: “This report makes very clear the increasing importance of trusted local journalism to our society in the age of AI, and the efforts publishers are making to find a truly sustainable future for local news through innovation.
“The next five years will be critical for the sector and the report makes some helpful recommendations for interventions to support local journalism, such as government and the private sector making much greater use of the sector as an advertising platform.”
The report can be read in full here.