As I See It: STEVE SAMPSON says the quality titles are now winning the media war
Rupert Murdoch famously reprimanded The Sun’s mercurial editor Kelvin MacKenzie for his “IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT” General Election headline. Labour leader Neil Kinnock had been trounced, finally and completely. He thought Kelvin was grandstanding. He didn’t get it – it’s what Labour themselves thought. But in those days The Sun was generating millions of profit every week, whatever Kelvin did was good for Rupert’s bottom line.
The tabloid cash cow undoubtedly helped save Murdoch from total meltdown over Sky. And definitely propped up The Times which consistently lost tens of millions a year.
The roles couldn’t be more reversed. The Times and Sunday Times are now nicely in the black, The Times with a record 350,000 subscribers. The Sun lost £90m in the last financial year.
The shape of newspapers is becoming clearer every day – it’s the rise of the “broadsheet” quality titles, and their subscriptions. The Daily Telegraph doing so well it returned furlough money. The Guardian now in profit.
The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday are both brilliant newspapers, the standard bearers since the Leveson phone tapping inquiry. The Mail has overtaken The Sun to be the biggest daily seller – but at a measly 850,000 sales a day. Even allowing for the plague that’s a frighteningly low number. They are shedding readers each year in double digits. Mailonline generates £140m in revenues. A third of Buzzfeed and with enormous accumulated losses. There is no comparison with traditional ad values versus online.
The modern media giants – VICE, Buzzfeed, The Athletic – are not immune. They are all shedding jobs. In Buzzfeed’s case the classic “levelling up” from exploding melons to serious news creator has proved as bogus as it sounded. Founder Jonah Peretti is a false profit (sic).
The scary one is Reach – owner of the Mirror and Express plus a slew of metropolitan media. Put it side by side with the New York Times and it makes sobering reading.
Reach this week dumped 550 jobs – many of them in editorial. The NYT passed 6m subscribers. Reach generates £100m from its entire digital. NYT generates $800m (£630m) of which $420m is from news subscribers. They added 500,000 subscribers in the last quarter – more than the Times total.
What Reach does next is a real worry with CEO Scottish businessman Jim Mullen taking over at a time of intense crisis. Slashing jobs is like eating your foot. You end up hopping around in a circle. The staff who remain feel abandoned on a sinking ship. It’s how the management addresses the underlying revenue issues. They don’t have the subscription option in numbers. The local papers are shredded. Their nationals are read by old people, mainly casual buyers. The rest they give away free on websites.
The company apparently has a director of inventions. Me neither. But now’s your time – whoever you are.
One straw in the wind for the company to consider. The journalism is not in doubt – top class. The Daily Mirror has 209K followers on Instagram – less than a pastry chef. The Express – 12,000. The Sun – 320K. The Guardian – a whopping 3.2m. The New York Times? 9.6M. It doesn’t take a director of inventions to work that one out.
There’s one thing it could do overnight to drive an engaged 1m audience. An audience it very clearly doesn’t have, one it could speak with. Not at. Upsell them, add new value. Link them to every one of their websites and newspapers. I doubt it will get it.
There are many new ways to speak to your audience – the audience who don’t currently hear you. The best media operators are there now. Murdoch will win out – quality journalism will rule. And pay handsomely for itself.
Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.