Formats for the future

You may have noticed change afoot in the world of traditional print media. Glamour and Good Housekeeping launched regional variations in 2010, and The Independent revealed its new i publication, but it doesn’t stop there.
The truth is that newspapers continue to set the benchmark in terms of reliable, well researched information. But circulation figures are a huge worry, and these foldable institutions are running out of time if they have any hope of turning their falling fortunes around. So is this all a case of new ideas, or last ditch efforts?
On the other side of the media, Apple’s iPad had been mooted as a possible saving grace for print publications, as titles look to deliver their products direct to the tablet for a fee. But then sales of the associated apps have been disappointing, suggesting that people are used to getting news for free, and won’t be rushing to start paying for it again soon.
The Times online provides more potential evidence of this. Last November figures were released claiming 200,000 had signed up to pay for the paper’s web content. But the wider media reported that hits fell by up to 90 per cent in the first weeks of the paywall. And the official statistics didn’t differentiate between one-off article access, monthly print subscribers (who can use the site for free), mobile app purchases, and online subscribers.
We thought the i- a publication that looks to provide bite-size news worthy of its older sibling for 20p- was a good idea. But it’s alarming that the publisher has yet to reveal how sales are performing. Which means when you consider the fact that many people see the move as something of an ‘if this doesn’t work then we’re in trouble’ launch, things look less than healthy at The Independent.
Closer to home, The Bolton News also joined the format-changing fun, undertaking a complete design overhaul to emerge looking cleaner. There are smaller headlines, more modern typefaces and greater flexibility with images; all to try and keep people perusing the pages.
And MEN Media recently launched Business Week, a new Manchester magazine that’s free to pick up. Pages will also appear in the Manchester Evening News, in turn impacting on the format of the city’s premier paper. So where will things be by this time next year? Who knows, but it should be interesting to watch it all unfold. More and more publishers are adopting the age old adage ‘you have to speculate to accumulate’, so watch this space.