Every day we see more depressing headlines about how local newspapers are dying out. More and more dailies are turning into weeklies, more and more weeklies are closing down, and more and more communities are being left without local news coverage.
Online news – my specialist topic since I started The West Londoner – is an easy market to tap into. Since the London riots, I’ve gained 10,000 social media followers and the website gets a modest 2,000 unique users a week. Nothing game-changing there. Fine, you might think, except to do what I do – reporting local news as impartially as possible – I need an income.
This isn’t working out at all. Not because I’m a pisspoor businessman, but simply because there just isn’t enough money for something like this to work.
Traditionally, online media has just two revenue streams; subscriptions and advertising. Although The Times is having a measure of success with its subscription paywall, there’s no way in hell that model would work for a local news site. Which takes us to the heart of my rant today, advertising.
Advertising is the traditional model for local newspapers in general. Pick up a copy of your local rag and out of (say) 50 pages, you’ll probably find 10 pages of content and 40 pages of advertisements. However, online is a totally different story.
My main competitor for the West Londoner is Trinity Mirror Southern. Putting an advert on one of their titles’ websites will cost you the grand total of £45 per week. That also includes a print ad in five separate print products (two paid for, three freesheets). Good value for money, you say.
Yes – if you’re a local business looking for a cheap and cheerful way to attract custom.
Not so if you’re trying to make a profit and keep your business running, says I. After all, I’ve done the sums.
If I was to be competitive against Trinity Mirror Southern, let’s say I’m going to sell my ads at £35/week. For that I can only offer you exposure on a single website. I don’t have five newspapers to put your ad into for no extra charge, nor can I have that newspaper delivered to X thousand people. Even if I started my own weekly newspaper, I’d need thousands of pounds to print them every week. I’d need thousands more pounds to pay for it to be distributed around the local area. And I’d still face the problem of print readerships declining by 5% – 10% year on year.
No wonder I can’t attract advertising. I simply cannot compete with that offering.
Quite simply, from my point of view as a West London journalist, Trinity Mirror Southern have a very effective monopoly. Even fellow local news company Newsquest gave up offering printed local papers round here, leaving websites to be staffed by unpaid students.
Having done my sums based on beating Trinity Mirror’s offering, I reckon that even if I sold every single advertising slot physically available on The West Londoner, I would earn just shy of £500/month. Nobody can live off that sort of money. I’m not enough of a chav to live off benefits, and in any case (from what I understand of the benefits system) any money I earned from WL would be offset against any benefits income.
So, based on uncompetitive market conditions, I’m knocking it on the head with The West Londoner. It’s not viable and never will be while big media companies like Trinity Mirror keep their advertising rates at rock bottom.
The other big problem is rock bottom pricing of ads even at a national level. Taking out an online ad on the Daily Mail will cost you a whopping £150 per thousand page impressions. With national rates set at such ridiculously low levels (helped, no doubt, by the fact that the daily print edition of the Mail brings hundreds of thousands of pounds of revenue into DMGT), no wonder local papers are going to the wall.
The great irony is that current market regulation by the Office of Fair Trading is contributing to killing off even unviable journalism, as Northcliffe (local arm of the Daily Mail & General Trust) discovered when it tried selling some of its titles to the Kent Media Group. As a direct result of intervention in the market, people lost their jobs, so I have no idea what the answer is.
Ah well. I’m sure I’ll make a good PR rep or whatever it is I end up doing next.