After years of living in a fool’s paradise, all it took was the half-year results of the Daily Mail and General Trust (publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline news website) for reality to set in as to the widening black hole threatening the future of Britain’s newspaper sector. A column in The Guardian at the weekend by Roy Greenslade, respected media commentator and former Fleet Street editor, crystalises many of the facts and analysis about the growing uncertainty for print. His arguments are not new to newspaper owners, journalists, other employees and editors in Australia, Canada, Much of the US, France, Italy and New Zealand.
Headlined “Suddenly, national newspapers are heading for that print cliff fall”, the column argued that last week’s half-year profit report and outlook from Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) should be seen as a “landmark moment”. Greenslade pointed to the the profit warning from DMGT that newspaper profitability would fall in the next six months to around 10%, after being forecast at 13% in last November’s 2015-16 forecast. That was after a 29% slide in profits from the company’s papers. MailOnline still loses money, even though its ad revenues rose 24% in the six months to March 31.
But Greenslade pointed out that the DMGT warning came after The Telegraph cut jobs last week (around a dozen,with up to 80 to 90 more to go according to London rumours). The Guardian is losing money, cutting 350 jobs including 100 journalists. Trinity Mirror is seeing ad revenues drain as quickly as DMGT and has been hacking into jobs and costs on its national papers, such as The Mirror and its vast local and regional print empire (it bought control of a big regional publisher from DMGT last year).
“It is time to recognise that the whole UK newspaper industry is heading for a cliff fall, that tipping point when there is no hope of a reversal of fortune.
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“It does not mean the immediate closure of papers because the lesson from regional owners is that it is possible to continue publication through cost-cutting. Papers can be produced with skeleton editorial staffs. Indeed, Richard Desmond has been doing that at the Daily and Sunday Express and Daily Star for several years.
“Space in newsprint papers can be filled. The end result is something that looks like a paper, but the content lacks any real value. It is not journalism.”
Daily newspaper sales have halved to around 6.5 million copies a day from 13 million a decade ago, but according to projections from the most recent breakdown on UK ad spending published in late April, newspapers’ share of UK ad spend will fall from near 30% in 2010 to around 10% in 2018. In fact by the end of 2017, outdoor advertising will be grabbing a bigger share of national ad spend than Britain’s daily newspapers. All this money is heading for mobile and Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, followed by Google.