Monday, 25 July 2011

Going weekly may be the answer for more dailies

The Torquay Herald Express's move to a weekly paper this weekend has been a big success. It weighed in at 192 pages, was packed with local content and, judging by the adverts, made some decent money. On Friday the sales department was considering an extra print run as the paper rapidly sold 30,000 copies. Its average sale as a daily was 21,112. It's an impressive first issue. The content is neatly structured with dedicated sections on News (30 pages), People, What's On, Nostalgia, Business and 13 pages of Sport. The red meat comes in the form of letters and opinion, ten pages of letters, columnists, readers' pictures and platforms for local people. The daily breaking news and sports service for Torbay still exists ... on a revamped thisissouthdevon website. Congratulations to editor Andy Phelan and his team. I was happy to lend a hand on the design, marketing and strategy but the real work was done locally. They created a paper they believed in, that they knew would work for their community - and it has paid off. It's early days of course and they will have to sustain this quality each week but they are a professional and committed outfit,  so no reason to suggest they won't.
The Scunthorpe
 Telegraph announces its
weekly intentions
Next up is the Scunthorpe Telegraph, which will make the change to weekly on August 18. Editor Mel Cook is preparing a 140-page first edition. The early dummies suggest it will be a stylish newspaper rammed with local content. One thing is certain. The Scunthorpe Telegraph  won't be the last ... and nor should it be. In my outlook for 2011 in InPublishing magazine in January, I predicted there would be fewer evening papers by the end of the year. I wrote: "A weekly analysis of events, complementing a comprehensive, hyperlocal digital news service, is more relevant than a daily print offering out-of-date news." Great prediction? Not really; it's glaringly obvious. The only surprise is that, when the Bath Chronicle successfully turned weekly in 2007, more newspapers didn't follow suit then. In the current InPublishing, Steve Dyson lists evening titles that he believes are ripe to go weekly. The industry is certainly watching the changes at the two Northcliffe papers with interest.
The transition, of course, is not without cost. There have been job losses and some people will miss their evening paper (although 'evening' became a misnomer some years ago). But the halcyon days when each medium-sized community in the UK might have justified its own daily newspaper, days when advertisers and readers had nowhere else to go, are gone.
The change to weekly is really about longevity. It's about turning evening newspapers that are losing sale and revenue at alarming rates into viable long-term businesses before they crash to earth. It is inevitable that in some smaller communities, six-day-a-week publications will become increasingly less viable. But the key to any change to weekly is that the new paper has to be substantial and of real quality. Filling a fatter paper with rewritten Press Releases and overblown what's on entries will just accelerate its decline. Think of the Sunday model, rather than the local shopperIt's also important to stress that this isn't a one size fits all solution. In some places the daily model still has legs. But I would be surprised if the managements at all daily papers selling under 25,000 aren't seriously considering the weekly option.    
The first weekly
Herald Express
launched on Thursday


  1. All that you say is true. I would argue however that if regional daily newspapers had not been so badly run over the last few years, with management teams that either had no real interest or when asked to jump answered "how high", some may have had a longer life.

    As a Northcliffe employee it was always obvious to me that some titles had to go weekly. The BC was and is a success and should have been emulated quickly. Unfortunately that would have required decisive management.

    Steve Auckland is doing what the average Northcliffe office cleaner knew had to be done for years. The trouble was that no one likes to lose an empire and that applied to the previous management team in spades.

  2. Ex-Northcliffe25 July 2011 at 20:55

    "On Friday the sales department was considering an extra print run as the paper rapidly sold 30,000 copies. Its average sale as a daily was 21,112."

    21,112 x 6 = 126,672

    I accept the lustre of a new title will have tempted advertisers back in the short-term but surely giving away more than 90,000 sales a week cannot be a good thing in the long run?

  3. Ex-Northcliffe25 July 2011 at 20:58

    And as an aside, is that sleep-inducing business yarn really the best splash they could come up with in a week of news? Maybe a move to montly publication might be in order?

  4. That is one truly awful looking front page, boring heads that do not fit, a nice grey box behind the main head and could they really not have used a better colour to go with Sainsbury's orange?

    Not a good idea to put what looks like a two page spread as a visual for one of their blurbs... If this is the best they can do with the first issue of a 'new' paper they might as well give up and close the shop now.

    And as pointed out above, the numbers do not stack up changing from a daily to a weekly.

  5. Not a Northcliffe employee!12 August 2011 at 15:29

    Re the numbers not stacking up - the loss in circulation revenue will be more than off-set by savings in distribution and newsprint.

    The vast majority of advertising in the old daily title would have come from 'once-a-week' advertisers and I wager 95% of that business will be retained with any losses again more than off-set by the generation of new business from clients attracted by a product that reaches more people than the old daily and consequently gives advertisers better value and better results.

    Net result? A product that has a much-improved profit margin, generates more profit in hard terms than the old one and has a sustainable future.

    It alarms me that our industry is home to so many people without even a basic understanding of newspaper finances.