AddThis SmartLayers

Publisher’s digital drive branded a “slap in the face” for newsagents

Brian MurphyA newspaper publisher has come under fire from newsagents after encouraging readers to switch from buying printed copies to digital subscriptions.

As reported by HTFP last November, Highland News and Media has outlined the goal of transitioning to a “fully digital publishing model” and has already ceased print publications of five of its newspapers.

But news retailers are up in arms over its efforts to persuade readers of its remaining print titles, which include the John O’Groat Journal, to switch to a digital subscription instead.

It follows a plug in last week’s Journal which read: “Do you buy a copy of the John O’ Groat Journal every week? Make the switch to a digital subscription and access your local trusted news wherever you like and whenever you like.”

The Federation of Independent Retailers has slammed the promotional campaign as “cynical, aggressive and a slap in the face for news retailers”.

Its head of news Brian Murphy said: “Our members in Scotland are shocked and appalled at the aggressive tactics that Highland News and Media is adopting in its bid to steal their loyal customers away from their weekly printed copy to its online version.

“The way the publisher is marketing the digital subscription packages for its papers shows the total disregard it has for retailers who sell its printed products. This is a slap in the face for newsagents.

“Furthermore, we have been given no prior warning about this.  The first we knew about it was seeing the heavy – and aggressive – promotion inside the newspaper.”

Mr Murphy, pictured, said the Fed was now seeking an urgent meeting with senior HNM executives, arguing that encouraging regular readers to switch to online subscriptions will have a detrimental knock-on effect for shop owners and lead to a loss of trade.

He added: “It is a proven fact that newspapers are a key footfall driver, and research shows that people buying a paper will often buy something else at the same time.”

Steve Barron, managing director of HNM, told HTFP: “Since launching our digital transformation strategy 18 months ago we have seen exceptionally encouraging results with subscriber numbers beyond our expectation. However, our print products remain an important part of our portfolio.

“We acknowledge the challenge independent retailers face due to the structural changes of the newspaper market and remain committed to maintaining their margins.”

The latest row comes seven months after HNM announced the closure of the print versions of the Highland News, North Star, Turriff Advertiser, Inverurie Advertiser and Ellon Advertise.

At the time Steve said: “Highland News & Media is transitioning to what will eventually be a fully digital publishing model. But print remains important, and we will treat it with professionalism and care.”