Hold the front page

I’ve been looking at the UK newspaper industry over my cup of tea this morning and it is quite an interesting read.

Of course, the paper versions of the newspapers are pretty much on their knees now, more especially the broadsheets, whose daily newspaper market share is pathetic. It has even been called, by someone I know under the aegis of Viscount R, vanity publishing.

It is, I think, more than this. The dailies operate partly as the shop window for the online businesses which are pretty much rampant, as compared to their old-fashioned country cousins. For example, the Guardian which struggles to shift just under 300,000 copies, has recorded 37 million unique user hits on its website last December; a trend that is followed by the other daily organs’ sites. It is worth noting though, that the more hard copies you shift, the less hits on your site: The Sun’s circulation is a little shy of the 3 million mark, but in hits on its website, in the same month as the Guardian’s 37 million, it only received 8 million.

So globally, it would be fair to argue, the Guardian is doing better than the Sun? Well that’s a relief maybe…

Whilst less and less of us buy or read a paper, more and more of us get our news from the web. But what is that news? Are we getting what we ask for? The Guardian attributed some of their big hit figures to their coverage at the end of last year of a climate conference – so people are turning to the virtual page that interests them.

Yet, the press media, still shapes the news, in a way one could consider disproportionate if you consider the fact that most of us (more than 80%) don’t read them. I loved the recent political limbo period whilst the political parties sorted out the future government. There we had a distilled moment, where the printed press and its televisual and online brethren had to wait on the real life power players of the piece. Those hacks and their owners (let us not forget the inflated egos of the press barons for one minute in all this) had to wait. And wait. And to me that was quite perfect: Alistair Campbell and Adam Wotnot from Sky reduced to a near scuffle such did their impotence in really important matters frustrate them.

The printed press has a place in our lives, even if it is a shop window for their websites, but why should we expect their news to be any more wholesome than Nestle? They are businesses the same. For me, the key difference is the newspapers’ owners have a power play to make for and against other protagonists. Men who like to needle others and remind them of their place. Straightforward investigation and exposure “in the public interest” is in very short supply. We are treated to exposes and lowdown dirt that is neither, but, in the case of the tabloids boosts circulation and in the instance of the broadsheet serves their reputations.

Reading the news at breakfast has always given you grubby hands and some things never change.

Posted on June 1, 2010, in News, Radio, Television and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I think the demographic is an important consideration for your theory. I would argue that the demographic of The Guardian is more web savvy, media-frenetic and gadgeted up thus are more inclined to favour reading online. Lunchbreaks, on commutes etc. The Sun’s readership is less likely to do this, and are more likely to buy the paper – I can’t give examples without being terribly stereotypical.

    My point is, ask the papers what their demographic/target markets are and I think there will be a stark difference in each’s inclination towards reading digital or traditional print media.

    Rupert Murdoch’s other daily, The Times/Sunday Times seems to think that its demographic can support being required to pay for online content – a pioneering approach. The Telegraph when it first started up just asked people to log in so that they could capture email data, but found its hit rates were embarrassingly low. When they removed the login wall their hits went up dramatically.

    So why do The Times think that they can get away with making people pay for content now, when that model has never proved successful and getting people to pay for anything other than coveted items online has proved impossible? Is it because their demographic likely to pay? Are they a loyal readership who will part with their pennies to read the insightful reports and editorials, rather than find the same news story elsewhere in the public domain? Whatever their reasoning, the whole media industry is eagerly watching and waiting to see if they have cracked the nut to generate money from online subscriptions. I bet they haven’t.

    Fascinating subject, sister.

  2. Well I was inspired by a discussion about David Laws on George Szirtes blog, although the opinions were too ideologically diverse to find an in for response purposes!

    You echo my thoughts re the online native”ness” of Sun readers: more likely to work in manual jobs rather than stuck behind PCs?

    The Times content payment scheme follows on from James Murdoch’s moan about the BBC’s online monopoly last year: great coverage online, on air, on tv and FREE! Oh how that sticks in the little plutocrat heir’s throat (aside from the silver spoon!). I wonder if they will make it pay? The Racing Post charges for in-depth online content (but I think the case for specialist pay per view content is more proven?)

    On the other hand aren’t the Sun and the Times brothers in arms anyway. To me, and I probably over-simpify the world, it all boils down to who provides our news, not how.

  3. I was a pioneer making money out of online news. back in 1997….. mainly out of advertising but a few nutters sent in cheques!! Well done to me, shame the bubble burst but at least the site’s still going and does well.

    I will ask H who is well versed in all of this to make a guest appearance on your blog.

  4. I suppose the trajectory is from maximum impact pay-to-read front page news to free online quality content that people can find for themselves.

    Our kids might be amazed in the future that we ever bought soggy old papers with weather stories on the front 😉

    Is it just the silver surfers keeping the dailies going? No-one has time to read them these days do they…

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