I REMEMBER a management meeting at the Evening Beast, the middling regional daily of which I was chief sub and then editor, in which we were informed of the apocalyptic news that our circulation was in danger of dipping below the 50,000-a-day threshold. This, we were warned, would be a disaster of Titanic proportions and could not be allowed at any cost.
“Never mind,” said the editor of the day as we filed out of the room. “At least we’ll stand a better chance of winning Newspaper of the Year in the under-50,000 category.”
If there was still an over-50,000 category in this year’s press awards, it would be a simple three-way battle between the Wolverhampton Express & Star (around 90,000), the Manchester Evening News (70,458) and the Liverpool Echo (62,422). Such is the cataclysmic decline of our once-great regional newspapers, no other daily title comes anywhere near those figures.
Newsquest titles were hit particularly hard in the latest set of figures, with several titles seeing a drop in sale of 20% or more, largely due to aggressive cover price increases. I’m ashamed to say that I have contributed to this decline. I’ve always bought my local weekly as a matter of course because I felt I should support it. I couldn’t tell you what it cost – 60p, 65p, 70p? But then the cover price went up to £1, and I stood there in the shop one day and thought: “This just isn’t worth it any more”. And I haven’t bought it since. Sad, but true.
But don’t worry, folks. The big publishing groups were quick to follow up the disastrous ABC figures with reassuring press releases announcing that “Web traffic is buoyant” and showing big increases of traffic on most regional websites. The Derby Telegraph, for instance, might have seen a 9.2% decline in circulation (down to 25,217) but web traffic is up “by a massive 72%”. Trebles all round!
What they don’t say is that that increase in web traffic is probably worth threepence while the print side of the business still turns in 90% of the profits. Never mind, let’s pursue this imaginary digital pot of gold, while asset-stripping the parent titles.
The one hope on the horizon is that with 22 daily titles now selling fewer than 15,000 copies a day – including those in proper provincial towns like Carlisle, Wigan, Worcester, Swindon, Bolton, Colchester, Ipswich, Oxford, Brighton and Blackpool – the big boys will start shedding these ‘failing’ assets and sell them back to the communities in which they were founded.
My Kickstarter page is all ready to rumble…
WHILE we’re talking of sinking ships, the nights are drawing in, the kids are back at school, the X Factor is back on the telly, so it must be partwork magazine time again. I don’t know what it is about these very specialist publishers – they must know their market – but the smell of burning leaves doesn’t suddenly give me the urge to build a scale model of the Ark Royal in weekly instalments.
These things are notoriously daft and I expect many peter out after a few weeks, but you can’t say that publishers aren’t optimistic. This year’s barmpot offering comes from our old friends Hachette, who are offering the opportunity to build a scale model of German submarine U96, part by part, in ONLY 150 issues.
Now hang on there. Of course the first issue only costs 50p, and the first component will probably be a gun because guns are sexy, but what about weeks 76-89 when you’re fed a depressing diet of internal bulkheads? And the cost – the COST! At £5.99 a time, it’s going to cost you a ridiculous £897.51 to complete the model. I’ve bought cars for less than that.
Actually, thinking about it, the Scottish government might sell you a proper submarine for not much more in a few weeks time.
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan