Newspaper review

By The Drum, Administrator

September 24, 2004 | 9 min read

To say that the Scottish newspaper industry is competitive is more than a slight understatement. North of the border the newspaper scene has never been tougher, with daily national, local, broadsheet and tabloid titles battling it out for a greater share of the reader and advertiser market.

The past 12 months, in particular, have been eventful ones in the newspaper industry as a whole. The introduction of ‘compact’ versions of broadsheet newspapers has added a new dimension to the daily fight for sales, while the gradual return of client marketing budgets has given sales teams higher targets to aim for.

Throughout changing circulations (both good and bad), changing formats and changing revenues the overall outlook is a positive one.

“Our ad volumes are up, significantly up, year on year for the last five years and we’ve managed to get the Scottish Sun cover price up.” Says Colin McClatchie, general manager at News International (Scotland). “So actually we’ve got a pretty healthy business.”

Unfortunately as the magazine went to press Mark Hollinshead, managing director of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, was unavailable for comment on the tough tabloid marketplace, which has seen the Record and Sun continue their ongoing war for readers.

“We’ve seen advertising revenues creep back.” Comments Steven Walker, managing director of Scotsman Publications. “They’re not sprinting back, but they are creeping back. We’re seeing recruitment advertising returning to good levels and our national London business, which has always been strong, is stronger than ever. I think it’s been an interesting year because we have re-engineered the way this company runs. We’ve re-engineered the way it spends money and the way it analyses how it spends money. We’ve brought the company back to acceptable levels of profit.”

And Walker is keen to establish that his company is not the only one performing well north of the border. He says: “All of our businesses are run a damn-sight better, and they’re stronger than they were 10 years ago. The Herald’s in much better shape, and Newsquest’s making it even better. They’re an astute, smart bunch of guys who know how to run a news operation. You can’t build something the size of Newsquest, with parents like Gannet, if you don’t bloody know what you’re doing, and they know what they’re doing.

“That’s something we should all be congratulated on. We’re all running our businesses a lot better and a lot more efficiently.”

And the daily nationals aren’t the only ones finding the climate a little more pleasant.

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, says: “The past 12 months has been a reasonable time for us – we have recently published our interim report and I would say that the outlook is quite good. Our papers have seen an increase in circulation, and national advertising, along with local, have increased to. We have made significant investments on our papers in the IT front, which means that we are becoming a far more efficient company that can offer better customer services.”

Nick Hunter, managing editor at Scottish Provincial Press, comments: “In terms of advertising, we are very strong when it comes to local advertisers. However, and I would say that this is the case for most regional newspapers at the moment, the national advertising has been a little slower. Everyone has been affected, but still they carry on, as they know that the industry as a whole will come out of it. I suppose it really is like the chicken and the egg. If we can produce good newspapers that people enjoy reading, that are well written and contain information that they need to have then the advertisers and readers will stay with us. However, if we don’t do that then we will lose out on all counts.”

“The past 12 months has been an excellent time for us.” Says Mark Mountford, acting deputy managing director of Scottish and Universal Newspapers. “We have established a very strong local advertising base, which has been a lot more consistent for us than national advertisers and that, has really helped. The reasons for this is I don’t think that the local advertisers have been as hard hit as the national and because of that, they are still willing to spend money with the local newspapers. They are less exposed to market economics. We are showing a great deal of growth in our titles and are really doing well.”

Though the last 12 months certainly seem to have seen a general pick up in the newspaper marketplace, it has been the introduction of the new broadsheet ‘compacts’ that has been the most remarkable change in the landscape.

McClatchie says: “I think certainly over the last year the broadsheets, or compacts as they’re now called, has been the single biggest change.

“A couple of things happened that brought this about. Firstly, the multi-sectioned format of the broadsheet became increasingly unwieldy, and secondly Associated came about with this concept of the Metro.

“Metro did two things. It genuinely expanded readership of the newspaper format, to an audience that didn’t normally sample newspapers. The fact that it was convenient and easy to read forced us all to think ‘are we going to increasingly find it more difficult unless we match that?’ That’s when people started to think ‘what if we turned the broadsheets into a compact form?’”

The Scotsman has hailed the introduction of its compact paper as a complete success. But Walker agrees that Metro was a catalyst for the change.

He says: “Although everyone will tell you that the Metro hasn’t had any effect on their sales, here’s the truth of it: some of those people on buses or trains in Edinburgh or Glasgow, didn’t read anything at all, and now they read the Metro. Now to me that’s good, at least they’re reading something. But secondly, the ones that used to read something just to pass the time used to buy a product. And the truth is that now they don’t. These people weren’t necessarily buying newspapers because of great brand loyalty, they were simply buying it because it was better than looking out the window. I think we’ve all suffered as a result of Metro.”

However not all of the publishers in Scotland have chosen to adopt the compact format. The Herald, for one, has thus far chosen to remain a broadsheet. Unfortunately Tim Blott, managing director of Newsquest (Herald & Times), declined to take part in this feature. Newsquest is not alone, however. Johnston Press, publisher of a number of broadsheet titles such as the Falkirk Herald, believes that content is more important than size.

“We currently have no plans to downsize our papers to compacts – it is simply something that we are not interested in.” Comments Bowdler. “Instead, we want to keep giving the readers the same kind of high quality papers that we are currently doing. The newspapers that we print are interested in a local news front which means that they will always find readers who are wanting to know what is happening in their area.”

A spokesperson for D.C. Thomson said: “The Courier reports that like all broadsheet publishers, it is watching closely the change to compact editions being undertaken by other publishers, but has no immediate plans to follow in the same direction.

“The Courier was also pleased to have achieved a small increase in circulation contained in the latest ABC releases. Whilst Tayside and Fife remains the core of the Courier’s circulation area, it is interesting to note that it is selling on a par with the Herald and considerably more than the Scotsman, both published in major cities with large populations.”

Along with the gradual improvement in revenues and/or circulation, however, has been a continuing threat from other media channels. In today’s information society the newspaper industry is under constant attack from other media channels.

“I think the issues are the same that we’ve faced over the last decade: the proliferation of electronic media, the much greater fragmentation of it.” Comments McClatchie. “The challenge for all of us is to continue in the printed format. To keep our presence, our share, and our relevance to increasing generations who look at the internet as their source of information. I think we all will continue to be increasingly creative in terms of how we present our products.

“I also think in the long term the currency for ourselves and for our industry will move not just to readership but a combination of readership and web usage.”

Walker agrees, saying: “There was a time when if you really wanted analysis of what was going on you had a buy a newspaper. You could live with the headlines on News at Ten, but if you really wanted analysis and understanding of what was going on you bought a newspaper. Now you’ve got heaven knows how many 24-hour news channels. These channels have a chance to really go in-depth and compete with us. The internet, obviously, competes with us. For God’s sake Scotsman.com competes with us. So I think the challenge is to continue to make newspapers a relevant part of people’s daily lives. I think the whole industry should get together and seriously discuss how that can be done. I’ve been very keen to get an industry-wide forum going on what we can do collectively to influence people to buy newspapers. We need to remind people of why newspapers are so good for you in terms of education and awareness of what goes on in the world.”

It’s been a year of change in the Scottish newspaper industry and, with recent senior staffing changes at Newsquest, Scotsman Publications and rumoured changes at the Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail, it looks as though the year ahead will be just as eventful. Whether more papers go compact, take each others revenues, sales figures or even staff, one thing’s for sure: it shouldn’t be dull. And that’s an understatement.

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