The launch by Trinity Mirror of New Day, the first new paid-for newspaper in three decades is, on the face of it, potentially one of the worst commercial decisions since Microsoft launched the Zune (look it up).
Failure, the evidence suggests, is all-too likely an option.
For a start, newspapers are an analogue product in a digital age. Why hand over hard cash to buy news to hold in your hands when you can read it on a device and from any number of sources for free? Why listen to one voice when you can hear a whole choir for free?
And nearly all news is broken now on social media. Hands up who went to a newspaper site and stuck with it throughout the day when news of David Bowie’s death broke. No one, right? Everyone was on Twitter and Facebook where the news first emerged. In an era when even the web is starting to feel more like a reference library than a breaking news platform, what is newsprint bringing to the table?
It’s true that good quality analysis is rarer online – many independent bloggers could use a sharp sub-editor to curb their self-indulgence and word counts, let alone correct their legal faux pas and abysmal grammar – but commentary and analysis is where news magazines are at their best. The rising circulations of Private Eye, The Spectator and – astonishingly, given its content is available for free online – New Statesman prove that there is an appetite for in-depth coverage beyond the daily headlines which people are willing to pay for.
Some hacks on other papers have welcomed the arrival of a new competitor on the basis that it might help revive interest in newspapers generally but this is delusional. There is no evidence that the launch of the abridged version of The Independent, the “i” paper expanded readers’ appetite for newsprint; all it did was steal away readers, enticed by a cheap cover price, and eat into other papers’ markets.
As for the argument that the new 40-page paper with its “ruthless edit” of the day’s news will appeal to time-poor readers – well, we’re all time-poor. That’s why, on the train into work, the bus home or walking to the car park, we’re glued to our mobiles; we’re maximising the precious few minutes we have.
What else? The title, New Day, is hardly distinctive. Does it sound like a potentially strong brand? Or more like a failed breakfast TV programme?
Trinity Mirror has not disclosed how much it is costing to launch the new paper but however many millions it is, the money might have been better spent upgrading some of the turgid websites of its recent acquisition, Local World.
And you wonder what Trinity Mirror shareholders make of the move and a time when the company is aiming to save £20m this financial year and revenues from its existing print operation were down 8% at the company’s last trading update in December 2015.
From every aspect, this looks an unlikely commercial prospect if you study the cold hard economics.
And yet… and yet…
There are, in the bean-counting, cost-cutting, eye-on-the-bottom-line world of modern media economics, still a few factors which give one pause for thought.
One is that the new paper, at 50p (25p to start with) will be cheap – so will potentially appeal to the Lidl-obsessed middle classes as much as the cash-strapped student or minimum wage earner, alongside the busy commuter.
Another is that there remains a significant swath of older people whose eschew Twitter and Snapchat, prefer the BBC to Vice and would still rather read their news on paper than on a phone. Especially if it’s cheap. Older people are poorly served by the news media in many ways, which is odd when you think about how well-heeled baby boomers are supposed to be. The New Day is targeting an age group of 35-55. If it thought a little older, it might find there’s gold in them there retirees.
Finally, newspapers – and their journalism – have never been just about the money. For the readers, as much as for those who work on them, they represent something other than just a collection of stories. They are edited, not “curated”; they have an identity of their own, something which their loyal readers value and relate to.
That’s why, when the big stuff happens, their sales go up. I don’t know about you but when Bowie died, I didn’t go around capturing screen shots of websites to read and reread. I went out and bought every newspaper I could lay my hands on.
If that’s what New Day is aiming to build, then we can only wish it well. With our fingers crossed.