Redundancies, newspaper closures and failed experiments reflect quickening declines in circulations and have heaped urgency on publishers' ongoing efforts to blend digital and print models, write Jessica Goodfellow and Seb Joseph.
Reports of print’s demise are nothing new but what’s surprised many media observers is that the rate of decline for circulation and advertising is faster than anticipated. That surprise has led some to fear the newspaper industry has hit tipping point, with circulation and advertising revenues increasingly succumbing to media’s new powerbrokers at the likes of Google and Facebook.
Print advertising in the UK fell by a fifth in April, according to the Telegraph Media Group’s chief executive Murdoch MacLennan and that was off the back probably one of the steepest quarterly drops for newspaper circulations in recent times between January and March. Some 11 of the 24 national newspapers audited by ABC suffered double-digit year-on-year dips in January, while the only titles to post genuine sales rises in March were the Daily and Sunday Star.
Those drops help rationalise job cuts at the Telegraph and the Guardian in recent months, while Trinity Mirror’s group marketing director Zoe Harris has linked the dire situation to a deepening bias against newspapers from some parts of the industry.
The outlook then is gloomy; significant print spenders such as Tesco, L’Oreal and Sky have already shifted big chunks of their plans online and more will likely follow amid a rising wave of media reviews that dates back to last year. It’s an exodus of budgets that has forced many publishers to realise digital will never be able to make up the shortfall in print due to the lower margins it commands.
Newspapers are being sunk by the internet but there is an escape plan
“Newspaper brands have lost their mojo," says Dan Pimm, co-founder and partner at media agency December19. “Over the past few years, agency groups have been diverting their money away from print to achieve more measurable results and higher profit margins. Despite the fact the newsbrands have been ramping up their combined digital and print offerings, this year seems particularly bad and the loss of print revenue will be hurting as that is where their profit lies.”
However, changes are afoot and unlike previous attempts to slow losses, newspaper bosses are starting to accept that huge audiences don’t matter in the absence of a business model.
It's why News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks is leading a contingent of the publisher’s top executives to sell its new commercial proposition to agency bosses, and why Trinity Mirror’s chief revenue officer James Wildman has held meetings with a similar crowd to discuss a joint ad sales venture for newspapers. There’s more impetus now from these publishers to scrap traditional strategies and craft a story of why advertising in newspapers is still a good thing to do.
“I think recently there has been a very clear push, particularly since Rebekah came back, to make sure that we are engaged with advertisers in a way that makes it clear to them that we are very much open for business,” says Chris Duncan, chief customer officer at News UK.
“We have changed the Sun’s proposition around digital to go back to a scale proposition; we have launched the brand on Snapchat and we are on Apple News… our story constantly changes and we need to make sure we are out there explaining it because it is an interesting one for advertisers to understand.”
Part of that narrative has to convince marketers that newspapers can still bring them attention. Newspaper publishers have much bigger footprints with their digital properties. So while circulation has been going backwards, their reach has been growing. But that’s not coming across in many discussions with publishers at the moment, according to Steve Goodman, managing director of print trading at GroupM UK.
A new era of audience measurement for newspapers
The Guardian may be about to do something about that, with the newspaper’s sales executives currently touting a new way of selling print media. They’re wrapping print and digital inventory up to drive business results rather than just selling audiences to planners. It is also believed to be offering cover wraps for the first time.
"As part of our ongoing fewer, better advertising strategy we are developing a series of new ad solutions that focus on driving consumer actions against the desired outcome of our advertisers, like the ad formats we just released in a tie up with Canon,” said a spokeswoman from the Guardian. “As the digital ad industry matures quality media owners need to get better at proving that advertising on their platforms works by clearly illustrating the effect on consumer behaviour, beyond the measurement of a click through rate."
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail Media Group (DMG) is telling advertisers it can give them millennials if they buy the Metro and the Mail Online as a package. A competition between agencies is currently being run by the publisher to see which one can deliver the best campaign targeting millennials across those two channels. Some of those close to the discussions say the move is DMG’s attempt to placate a market it apparently scorned when it introduced stricter contracts at the start of the year.
Whatever the reason for it, the move is indicative of the lack of ROI newspapers are able to guarantee advertisers despite them sitting on an abundance of first party data. In comparison, everything Google and Facebook do feeds off this foundation. A remedy is being brewed though, one that promises to empower newspapers to rethink how they package their media to reflect new planning strategies.
This is happening through Publishers Audience Measurement Co’s (Pamco) audience measurement system currently being piloted. Dubbed Audience Measurement for Publishers (AMP), it promises to finally show overall de-duplicated reach of publisher brands across print, PC, mobile and tablet. For the first time, advertisers and agencies will be able to look at any newspaper or platform individually or combine any number of those properties.
“The issue with digital is it is a lot easier to match how the investment with the results, with print it is a lot harder, it is a lot harder to make the ROI connection,” said Goodman. “When agencies are set those KPIs and when clients and marketing directors do that for themselves, it is going to mean more money will go because it’s easier to measure opportunity. The issue is you are gradually going to miss out on the longer term brand building that print can offer.”
It’s arguable that Trinity Mirror’s dalliance with the New Day was an attempt to remind planners of print’s ability to do just that, albeit one that ironically failed to convey the potential of its own brand. There’s a sense from the media experts interviewed by The Drum that Trinity Mirror is one of several publishers redoubling efforts to make its print products better and more in keeping with what consumers want.
Understanding the distribution business
This is important because the current distribution model is archaic and still reliant on mainly newsagents and some supermarkets. Part of the issue is that even though publishers would like to chase the market and give away their papers at different events, those editions wouldn’t count toward the ABC figures.
With no signs of immediate change here, News UK is looking at more of a regional focus. And given MediaCom’s regional presence it would go some way to explaining why Brooks and her team made the WPP shop one of their priority stops.
The sky is falling on newspapers faster than many anticipated. That much is true. Google’s status as the world’s largest media owner and Facebook being the fastest growing, according to Zenith’s recent analysis of 2014 numbers, is testament to that. However, it would seem newspaper bosses are learning and instead of pouring loads of resources into something big and new, they’re trying to innovate in smaller ways that they can then build out.