No comment, no problem. The New Yorker has published a 16,000-word investigation on whether Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams authorised IRA killings. Adams wouldn’t talk to the reporter. Here’s one way to take a “no comment”.
Does information want to be free? Darren “Lurch” Davidson wrote a story in this morning’s Australian about the trading update issued on March 9 by Guardian Media Group in London, with the angle that The Guardian is in money trouble because it lacks a paywall. In the story (behind the paywall), Davidson wrote:
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“Despite a rise in digital sales, The Guardian expects to post total operating losses of 20m [pounds] this year, and has warned that wider losses are likely as it expands aggressively overseas. The dismal result provides a further sign that news websites funded by advertising alone face an uncertain future …
“In contrast, newspapers with digital subscription strategies are achieving positive results, creating viable business models to sustain quality journalism in the future.”
But Lurch has stumbled into making a comparison between the way his employer does business and the completely different model for Guardian Media Group. So radical is the difference that it makes most of Lurch’s story irrelevant. But he did have an each-way bet at the bottom of the story, with the subtle acknowledgement that Guardian Media Group is not like any other media company:
“The sale of the group’s majority stake in Trader Media Group, the publisher of classifieds advertising business Auto Trader, had left GMG with about 800m [pounds] cash.”
But he didn’t acknowledge what that cash will be used for (there’s also another 200 million pounds of other assets). The cash is around $1.6 billion, enough to finance 20 years or more of losses at Guardian Media Group. Will News Corp be around for that long in its present form? Guardian Media Group is owned by the Scott Trust, which is tasked with ensuring the survival of The Guardian in perpetuity, unlike The Australian, whose life expectancy depends on the whims of 84-year-old Rupert Murdoch and the rest of his clan.
And what about that bit about “newspapers with digital subscription strategies are achieving positive results, creating viable business models to sustain quality journalism in the future”? The Newspaper Association of America said last week, according to a MediaPost blog:
“Newspapers continue to make big strides online, with the combined digital audience for U.S. newspapers reaching a record 173 million in January 2015, according to comScore data cited by the Newspaper Association of America. That figure is the highest ever, up 19% from 146 million in January 2014, and 4.8% from 165 million in December 2014. The latest figure represents 82% of the total U.S. adult online population in January 2015. Furthermore, newspapers’ digital content reached 91% of U.S. adult women ages 25-34, and the same proportion of U.S. adult men ages 35-44.”
Many of America’s papers have paywall strategies, so that 173 million figure looks pretty impressive, which it is. It includes traffic to sites such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. But how does it really stack up? The UK newspaper audit group, (ABC, or Audit Bureau of Circulations) tracks the performance of media multi platforms. Here’s a couple of figures from its January report.
The Daily Mail online monthly traffic increased to 225 million, up 18.7% increase on the previous month. And The Guardian’s website also reported record monthly traffic in January, topping 120 million unique browsers in the month. That made it number two after the Daily Mail. These are global figures, not just for the UK.
So between the Mail and The Guardian, there were more than 345 million visits in January — or over 10 million a day. That makes the 173 million claimed for all US newspapers look OK, but not outstanding. And by the way, both the Daily Mail and The Guardian now have combined digital ad and other revenues (but not paywalls) of well over 120 million pounds, or close to $240 million a year, which gives some context to the jottings of Lurch about the survival of newspapers without paywalls and quality journalism. — Glenn Dyer
No paywalls, eh? On the subject of paywalls, Canada’s biggest selling newspaper, the Toronto Star (owned by the struggling Torstar group), has confirmed an announcement first made last November than it will dismantle its paywall. The paper says the paywall will come down on April 1 — and no, the announcement is not a joke. The paper says the decision to end digital subscriptions came after “extensive input from our readers and our advertisers … Listening to our audiences is critical to the success of our daily newspaper and our digital offerings and we are committed to continually adjusting our digital strategies to provide them with what they want.” The paywall went up in August 2013. The Star is launching a free tablet edition of the paper, as well as the free website. This is a bit of an act of desperation by Torstar, which is struggling with falling sales and rising costs. The revenue from the paywall obviously made little difference to the company’s bottom line. Torstar a year ago sold its Harlequin book and ebook publishing arm to News Corp for more than $US400 million. — Glenn Dyer
Gawker goes Magyar. Gawker has announced that it will be posting less often on its front page and sharing more posts from other sources, presumably as a cost-cutting measure. A pretty desperate one if today’s roll-call is any measure — including, as it does, a 600-word report on a Western Australian holiday, in Hungarian. Now you know how to say “I want to take a selfie with my quokka” in Budapest. — Guy Rundle
Front page of the day. The New York Daily News is pulling no punches in condemning Republican politicians who are trying to sabotage President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran …