After the very high-profile collapse of the New Day two months after its launch, you’d have to be very brave or very sure of yourself to launch a new print newspaper in the UK. If, even with the finances of Trinity Mirror behind it, the New Day couldn’t survive, then what particular set of stars would have to align to justify launching a new product?
After all, all indications are that the print newspaper market is only going to get more hostile as time passes. Newsbrands may be reaching more people than ever before, but not necessarily in the format they’d prefer. Ad revenue on print products is unsurprisingly migrating to digital and though research demonstrates that print is still overvalued when it comes to ad spend vs. time spent with print products, that just means print ad spend has some distance to fall.
Advertising Authority and Warc forecasts for the UK specifically demonstrate that ad spend on national newsbrands’ print products is expected to fall by 5.9 percent in 2016, with ad spend on regional newsbrands forecast to fall 5.4 percent during the same period.
So why has UK regional news publisher CN Group chosen to launch a new regional print news product? There are a few factors at play that might explain it.
As expained by Press Gazette, the new product (24 – the North’s National) was launched in response to the “state of the national market”, according to CN Group chief executive Miller Hogg:
“We’re seeing a declining audience, a disenfranchised audience. We know the national press are becoming more opinionated and more positionalised – politically and opinions-wise – and we believe from the research we’ve had that there is an awful lot of people who just want the news and they don’t want opinion rammed down their throats.”
The first part, that of a declining audience, is certainly true. CN Group’s latest full accounts, made up to the end of 2014, helpfully includes graphs charting the fall in circulation of its seven (at the time) major titles, all of which lost around a quarter of their total circulation between 2010 and 2014. The more recent available figures for those titles available from the Audit Bureau of Circulation demonstrate that YOY circulation changes have continued at around the same pace.
So, why launch a new paper now? Press Gazette explains that 24 is designed to plug a regional gap in CN Group’s coverage, one that isn’t currently served by its potential free rival the Metro:
“Independent regional publisher CN Group said the paper would be distributed across an area with a population of 1.15 million adults, spanning from Preston to Lockerbie, and out to Hexham in the east and Workington in the west.”
It’s worth noting that that particular region in the North has an average age in the high 40s, and that average age is set to increase fairly rapidly (though of course this is true for most of the UK), and older people are still more likely to buy print newspapers. The audience won’t be there forever, but it might stick around in those areas for longer.
Additionally, since the majority of content for 24 will initially come from the Press Association and the title will have a limited staff (the Press Gazette article mentions three), the costs of producing the paper won’t be prohibitively expensive. Essentially, it looks like CN Group is trying to grab another slice of the shrinking regional advertising spend by pushing into an area that’s underserved by papers.
One note of caution (other than the probable time bomb aspect of print news products). The latest annual results CN Group published noted that it had seen a 25 percent fall in advertising from National sources. Meanwhile, the Press Gazette article claims that 24 will rely, in part, on attracting national advertising to be viable:
“While the Metro is free and relies on distributing large volumes of copies at transport hubs around major conurbations, 24 will cost 40p and rely on regional and national advertising for revenue, as well as the cover price.”
Launching a new print newspaper certainly isn’t for everyone. But for a regional publisher that has identified an audience niche and has the provision in place to supply a new product, it might just work.