British upstart ‘The New Day’ casts its fate to the newsstand

At a time when most of the world’s publishers have accepted as gospel that the future is digital, ‘The New Day’s’ decidedly non-digital stance has more than a few industry analysts scratching their heads. — Reuters pic
At a time when most of the world’s publishers have accepted as gospel that the future is digital, ‘The New Day’s’ decidedly non-digital stance has more than a few industry analysts scratching their heads. — Reuters pic

LONDON, April 4 — The New Day, Britain’s youngest media startup, has a little something for everyone: a digest of the day’s top news, human-interest features, coverage of popular culture, sports, health and travel, and even advice columnists.

What it doesn’t have is a website. Or an app. Or really much of a digital presence at all.

At a time when most of the world’s publishers have accepted as gospel that the future is digital, such a bet on dead trees has more than a few industry analysts scratching their heads. The move comes as digital-only outlets like The Huffington Post, Politico and Business Insider push deeper into European markets and just as some of the region’s established titles are scaling back or ending print production. The Independent, one of Britain’s most respected newspapers, went digital-only on March 26, and El País, Spain’s largest daily, warned its staff last month that it was considering a similar move.

But with a goal of attracting as many as one million paying readers a week, The New Day’s publisher, Trinity Mirror, one of Britain’s largest media companies, is convinced that its print-only daily can find an audience in Britain’s famously crowded newspaper market.

“There is a boldness to that decision,” said Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, a media research group in London. “At a time when print circulations are falling at high percentage rates year in and year out, to launch a print-only product is really brave. You have to feel pretty confident that you are filling a genuinely material market gap.”

Started just over a month ago, the 40-page New Day prints five days a week and is available at 40,000 newsstands across Britain, where it sells for 50 pence (RM2.80), a copy. Home subscriptions are not an option and, aside from an initial two-week promotion in early March, the newspaper does not plan to give away any of its content.

“You don’t want to go down that avenue,” said The New Day’s editor, Alison Phillips. “There is still a significant number of people who have the habit in their blood” of paying for content and who prefer the experience of reading offline, she said.

Phillips acknowledged that the sheer volume of free content online, as well as the convenience of being able to read it on mobile phones and other devices, has helped drive readers away from print. But with The New Day, Trinity Mirror is also gambling that print readership is declining for another simple reason: Many British readers simply do not like the other print choices available.

Quality dailies like The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph are too dense and ponderous for some, Phillips said, while other readers are put off by the brash tone and overt partisanship of mass-market tabloids like The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, or The Daily Mirror, which is also owned by Trinity Mirror.

“Our readers are time poor,” Phillips said of The New Day’s target audience, “and they don’t like being told what to think.”

Still, analysts said, persuading consumers to switch back to buying print media from a newsstand is no small challenge.

“By definition, these are lapsed newspaper readers,” said McCabe of Enders Analysis. “Even if their hypothesis is correct, the reality is most people are consuming news on mobile devices. That requires a big change in habits.”

If The New Day’s initial sales figures are anything to go by, those digital habits die hard.

Although The New Day sold as many as 150,000 daily copies at a discounted price of 25 pence in early March, its sales have since fallen precipitously, according to British media reports, to fewer than 90,000 copies. Trinity Mirror declined to confirm those early figures, citing plans to publish audited sales figures later in the spring. The company has said it expects to turn a profit by the end of the year. And while it does have some advertising, its business model is circulation driven.

Phillips said she was aware that sales had fallen off since the newspaper’s initial marketing push but that this was unsurprising. “It was never going to be easy to launch a new print product,” she said.

Jane Singer, a journalism professor at City University London, said the decision to stay off digital platforms had only made the task of promoting The New Day that much harder.

“If you’re trying to launch a new print product today, then it’s crucial that it becomes something people are talking about,” she said. “The reality is that, for most people, those kinds of conversations are happening online.”

The New Day has turned to social media as a promotional tool, broadcasting screen shots of its front page and teasers about specific articles. But so far, its social audience — 47,000 on Facebook, 12,000 on Twitter — remains a fraction of what most newspapers with shareable digital content are able to attract.

Still, not all analysts are ready to dismiss The New Day as a doomed experiment.

By forgoing digital, McCabe said, The New Day avoids the problem of having to stretch scarce newsroom resources across multiple platforms.

“Publishers today are always trying to balance a print and an online strategy as if somehow it is all going to be the same thing,” McCabe said. “Everyone feels like they are compromising.”

Phillips said she remained encouraged by positive comments the paper was getting from readers so far — but she acknowledged that the feedback was coming primarily online.

That kind of “postdigital” reader engagement, she said, suggests that there is still room for successful experimentation in print publishing.

“It’s not just about the news. It is about the experience,” Phillips said. “For many people, going to a Facebook page for the news is pretty unfulfilling.” — The New York Times

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