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UK publishers face crisis year

News, 20 January 2017
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LONDON: UK newspaper publishers, faced with falling circulations, reduced adspend, regulatory uncertainties and the rise of fake news, face a potentially critical year ahead.

December ABC data show the total circulation of national dailies was down 3.7% year on year, with only The Times (+9.2%) and the Metro freesheet (+9.7%) showing any advance on the previous year.

Adspend, meanwhile, is leaching away to the US internet giants of Google and Facebook. The most recent figures from the AA/Warc Expenditure report, due to be updated before the end of the month, forecast that total ad revenue among national newsbrands would dip 9.3% in 2016, and 10.4% in 2017; ad revenue for regional titles is forecast to reduce by 10% in 2016 and 8.4% in 2017.

The reaction of publishers has been to seek ways of cutting costs, usually in the form of journalists; the Press Gazette reported only yesterday that Trinity Mirror is set to announce 78 redundancies across its network of regional newspapers.

The major publishers have also been working on a project that would see them combine print and digital advertising sales, although this stumbled a few days ago when DMG Media, publisher of the Daily Mail, announced it was pulling out of the initiative, leaving News UK, Trinity Mirror, Guardian Media Group and Telegraph Media Group to carry on.

Separately, Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Mirror, is in talks with Daily Express publisher Northern & Shell about a merger of back office and sales operations to make savings.

Another threat is the regulatory environment that has emerged in the wake of the Leveson inquiry. Leading publishers have declined to join Impress, a new independent regulator – albeit one funded in part by a trust established by Max Mosely, a man once at the centre of a tabloid exposé – preferring to stick with the publisher-funded Independent Press Standards Organisation.

They are also alarmed at the potential implications of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which could see those publishers not signed up to a recognised regulator, such as Impress, liable for all legal costs if they are sued, even if they win the case.

And as Brexit continues to polarise the country, Ukip donor Arron Banks has stepped into the ring, launching a digital news site, Westmonster, which seems likely to follow the controversial example of Breitbart in the US.

Data sourced from Mediatel, Press Gazette, Campaign, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff

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