Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Commentators Press Gazette to Continue

We have had a while to digest the news of the demise of Press Gazette. The blogs have been full of epitaphs for the 43 year old title almost all regretting the demise.

Press Gazette is not a special case, merely an extreme manifestation of the malaise affecting the whole business media industry. The display advertising revenue is all but non existent. No one really believes that the readers of Press Gazette buy anything on the strength of an ad. Let's look at the history; The job advertising evaporates, condensing on numerous job boards, some of which are owned by the very companies PG is supposed to serve. With no jobs, the motivation to buy a copy or a subscription diminishes and circulation falls year after year. With no job ads the profits fall and journalists lose their jobs. The product gets weaker. No jobs and now less journalism. The circulation falls some more.

Avaliability and handling of the title is hurt as the retail news trade enforces range reviews which limit the number of stores where PG can be bought and successive publishers cut back on waste. Circulation keeps falling.

Display advertising shrinking to nothing, recruitment vanishes, paid copy sales diminishing. Costs chopped, journos fired. Prop up the profits with more events (PG ran the British Press Awards, the Student Journalism Awards. the Regional Press Awards, the Journalists Law Conference and more), eventually realise the mag is so unprofitable that the only way to cut more costs is to reduce frequency. This strategy works for a month or until the first management accounts are produced and everyone realises that some of the old rules still apply (In a growth market a monthly will be made more profitable by increasing it's frequency, but dropping frequency only makes things worse in a shrinking market.) Now there is nobody left to fire, no discretionary costs left to chop. Think for a while about an online only solution. Realise that there is still no revenue, and what is left from the mag will almost certainly shrink further without a print product. Further realise that so little has been done to invest in a decent CMS or understanding of how online media really works that the costs of building anything that looks credible are too high and will take too long to implement and be too expensive. Fire the remaining staff, close the magazine, announce an online solution, but even days after the announcement of the mag closure present no further information on your plans (because you don't really have any.) Quietly vanish.

It could be the story of any business mag. Be warned.

Meanwhile, who will now provide the service that PG once did. It's last editor, Dominic Ponsford has postulated that many of the stories he once pursued will not get written. As we would agree, he thinks his magazines demise is a "canary for the industry", Journalists trusted PG and would call with leads for stories. Jon Slattery and others have been debating whether there is some sort of argument for an online journalists hub. This is the reader community itself creating what they need. Ironically what they need is a publisher to sort it all out - one of the very people the readers blame for messing up PG.

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