Our local media is dead. Long live our local media.
Publications nationwide now run on skeleton staff, and unprofessional websites fail to plug the gap because many editors also work another job 9-5. We all know the UK’s provincial press is in dire straits, but how long before it completely collapses?
242 local press outlets, 20% of the total number in the UK, closed during the seven years to 2012, leaving countless towns without so much as a weekly paper to call their own. But then research by Deloittes shows 40% of Britons read a local title once a week, minimum, with 62% paying more attention to print advertising when compared with online.
So there is still revenue potential in publishing, not least locally. According to the Newspaper Society, 80% of the UK population spend 90% of their lifetime earnings within a five to ten mile radius of home. But then I don’t need to highlight the importance of ‘local’, after December’s Smoking Gun newsletter focused on SoLoMo, and how crucial neighbourhood knowledge will soon be to all businesses.
Sir Ray Tindle, owner of the country’s fifth largest newspaper group, Tindle Newspapers, evidences the need for this kind of content. Building an empire of 220 publications over 50 years, many of his titles were considered doomed, but after inward investment from profit (rather than borrowed funds), the organisation now sees year on year growth, and has no debts. Unlike regional giant Johnston Press, which speculatively spent nearly £1billion on local media titles from 2005 to 2007, only to see them devalued to £40million two years later. The difference, according to respected media man Chris Oakley CBE, being strategy and foresight.
Examples of life outside the nationals don’t end there, either. Not so long ago Scottish magazine The Skinny announced a new edition for Manchester and Liverpool, reassuringly along with full-time job adverts. Meanwhile, down south, The Independent and Evening Standard- both owned by Evgeny Lebedev- will soon be working even closer together after winning a bid to run the capital’s new TV service, London Live.
One of the many local television stations set for Freeview that we blogged about recently, if nothing else all of the examples above betray a confidence that the public’s demand for regionalised media content will be sustained in some form. This means there’s no real reason these concepts of supply can’t work, providing the right people from the right professions are put into the right positions, from accounts to creatives- a universal business lesson, if ever I heard one.