Scottish Press Review

By The Drum, Administrator

April 20, 2007 | 9 min read

Since the summer of 2005, advertising spend in publishing formats has receded, causing many publishing houses to wonder what the future is for the printed word as the great white shark that is the internet seems to grow in strength on a daily basis. The ensuing hysteria, as revenues were lost, became akin to the Wall Street crash with many believing it only a matter of time before MDs within the newspaper industry would be throwing themselves out of their penthouse flats. It has been suggested that this could possibly be the worst advertising recession that newspapers have ever experienced.

“I don’t believe that the Scottish marketplace is any tougher than anywhere else,” says Jim Chisholm, senior strategy adviser to the World Association of Newspapers.

“The market is changing, and it’s not necessarily tough or easy. It’s the rate of change and the ability to adapt in order to keep up, that papers have struggled to do,” Chisholm continues.

There are many indications that the Scottish newspaper industry is, in fact, still going strong, especially with The Evening Times recently being named Regional Newspaper of the Year at the Newspaper Society’s Circulation, Editorial & Promotions Awards in March, while Scotland on Sunday won in three other categories at the same event.

In many respects, though, it has been a difficult time for newspapers, not just in Scotland. This has led many to suggest sounding the death knell of the printed news industry, despite newspapers still being able to command the ability to attract advertisers, and while the Scottish industry may not quite be what it once was, advertising spend is still strong. All a reader has to do is open their daily ‘rag’ of choice and look for themselves. They will still find plenty of advertisements screaming out for attention, not just local companies, but from big name brands too.

“There has been talk about a recession, media budgets down, advertisers not spending but I think we are still seeing a healthy press marketplace both for Scottish nationals and also within the regionals,” says Leeann Dempster, head of press at Feather Brooksbank.

Dempster continues, “It’s a mix of yield driven titles moving towards volume and better deals for advertisers, encouraging that extra spend. But also advertisers looking to bring brands closer to people's lives are increasingly using press.”

The fall in circulation figures for many newspapers has not helped raise confidence within the industry. However, as Mike Hartley, assistant advertising director of The Daily Record explains, newspapers are judged on the number of copies sold, rather than the response to its advertising, which is far more important to its commercial clients.

Hartley says, “In the marketplace newspapers are probably holding up better than most, far better for instance than commercial radio. The reason for that is pure and simple, it’s about responsiveness and newspapers have got an almost directory-like style. So if readers want retail deals then they know that they need to look at The Daily Record on a Friday, or if they want home improvements they can look at it on a Tuesday or a Thursday. Advertising platforms have been created that the readers now seek out. The decline in headline circulation figures doesn’t have a great deal of impact on response. Response is still extremely good value for money in newspapers.”

While the internet is widely perceived as the cause for this decline in circulation figures, most publications are realising the potential that it gives them to reach an international, and therefore a wider audience for advertisers.

“There’s an argument which says you can produce something which is simply a duplication through another channel which might serve a very good function, but on the other hand it’s pretty much accepted that people browse news and browse advertising and browse a newspaper in a different way than something online,” explains Simon Fairclough, director of the Scottish Newspaper Association.

Fairclough continues to says that newspapers are still far in advance of online news sites in terms of utilising editorial around advertising in order to appeal to readers.

“In terms of what you’re searching for, where your eye goes naturally, this is something that designers and printers know all about. Web designers are in the early stages of tracking people’s pattern of behaviour while working through websites. It’s not as developed as offline, but it will pick up pace. So you could duplicate or you can use one medium to drive traffic to another medium in a variety of ways. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition, that a newspaper’s website can encourage people to actually pick up a copy of the paper and vice versa.”

Scottish newspapers have had to devise and invest in innovative methods and new platforms in order to offset any losses they are experiencing in revenue. One such strategy was adopted by The Daily Record, which fell behind The Scottish Sun’s ABC circulation for the first time last year. In order to fight back, the paper launched The Daily Record PM, an evening paper in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which went up against already established titles, The Evening Times in Glasgow and The Edinburgh Evening News.

However, Michael Johnston, managing director of Johnston Publishing, owner of The Edinburgh Evening News says that the company has not seen any significant impact to The Edinburgh Evening News since the launch of The Daily Record PM, and admits to not being overly impressed by the new evening paper, “if anything, they’ve done us a favour” he insists.

“What it has done is to encourage us to work even harder to ensure The Edinburgh Evening News remains an outstanding newspaper and the best paper in Edinburgh and the Lothians.”

Johnston continues, “From a strategic point of view, it is hard to see what the Record is trying to achieve with the PM.”

The Record PM then launched against further opposition in Dundee and Aberdeen, and, following what is now a growing trend, opted to move away from a paid-for circulation to a free. This move is perhaps the best indication, following the price war of recent years, that the cover price is the least precious form of revenue to a tabloid publication.

Mike Hartley explains the strategy behind launching The Record PM: “The key point on Record PM I feel is, unless they are offering a price point which is irresistible, they [circulations] are generally going backwards. If that’s the case, and readerships are declining, we have to say to advertisers, ‘we’re planning on giving you more media value than we did last year.’ If they’re declining then how do we do that? Right now, as an example, PM is picking up about 40,000 readers a day, most of which probably don’t buy or didn’t buy the Record.

“So, if we can bolt those 40,000 new readers onto the 1.4 million that we’ve got and we lose 40,000 readers from the morning sale, then overall the advertiser is still getting the 1.4 million readers they were buying into.”

One area of printed news that continues to thrive, however, is that of the local newspapers.

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press says that the continued popularity of local newspapers in their communities is not diminishing as they continue to create a strong loyalty factor for long-standing brand names.

“In a broad sense, what we have seen happen over 2006 has been a more challenging marketplace largely driven by economical, cyclical factors, primarily in the jobs market. In a more general sense, media properties are still doing remarkably well and enhancing their position with the rapid evolution of online strategies.”

Bowdler continues, “The loyalty that they have is the consequence of what they have achieved over a great many years.

“The fact is that local newspapers still give advertisers a great response to advertising copy and, in general, newspapers are still regarded as a trust-worthy source of news and information and a medium that people can rely on.”

In recent years some papers have come and gone, for instance the debacle of The Scottish Standard which lasted less than seven issues, and the West End Mail, launched by Newsquest in the summer of 2005, which closed at the start of 2006 due to cost savings by the company. During its life time alone, a number of other Glasgow-based free sheets opened around the city and promptly folded.

Neville Keithley, managing director of Archant Scotland which prints local and regional papers such as The Extra, The Advertiser and The Gazette titles explains that the lack of loyalty and recognition factor has played its part in the death of many local papers: “There is a level of loyalty as well as good service and recognition,” says Keithley.

“The trend has been to see papers not survive because they don’t have a very good awareness. People are buying recognised brands. When we rebranded The Extra a few years ago for the Glasgow area, it certainly helped our business.”

So successful are Archant’s papers that the company’s portfolio is set to be bought out by Johnston Press for around £11million, an indication that regional papers are still proving popular with readers and advertisers.

“A lot of people have tried to put their ads in The Herald and other such newspapers and they haven’t obtained the response they expected,” says Campbell Murdoch (formerly publishing director at Newsquest’s magazine division in Glasgow, now) managing director of Premier Publishing. “It is very expensive to get into those national papers and a lot of small businesses just haven’t had the response they expected for the cost.”

“In the local newspaper market there’s also a definite loyalty factor, even for a very poorly produced product.

“They [local papers] solicit a very strong ‘it’s local, it’s mine’ feeling and that’s an area that can be built very strongly around, something that the larger papers like The Record and The Herald would really struggle to do.”


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