Archant is asking subscribers to its regional Life series of magazines to swap from their print editions for digital.
In a draft letter seen by Press Gazette, subscribers to the regional publisher’s 20 county Life magazines were asked if they would consider receiving “your May issue magazine content via the app instead of in a print copy”.
The email stressed that the new “eco subscription” is not compulsory but told subscribers it would be a chance for them to “save paper” as “you have told us that doing your bit for the environment is something that matters to you”.
An Archant spokesperson confirmed that the company was taking the unusual step of asking its own subscribers to stop receiving print versions of their Life magazines, saying it was part of a strategy set out in the middle of last year as part of an effort to achieve net zero-emissions at the company.
In addition the pandemic and ongoing surge in energy costs have together led to an industry-wide rise in newspaper and magazine printing costs, but Archant said this was not the primary reason for the initiative.
Last month, 200-year-old Cornish newspaper the Sunday Independent was put on hold indefinitely, in part due to rising print costs. In November, Daily Mail owner DMGT warned of future staff cuts as substantial increases in the costs of distribution, energy and newsprint hit revenues.
An Archant spokesperson said: “This initiative will help us mitigate increasing paper and print costs but the driver, at the point this strategy was set out in the middle of last year (prior to rising costs), is to drive the organisation forwards to net zero, which is of huge importance to us, the industry and our communities.”
They added: “This isn’t about a sudden switch to digital, it’s about encouraging our subscribers to join us in thinking differently about the platform in which they enjoy our content.
“For those subscribers who wish for their content to be delivered as a magazine, there will be no change. For those subscribers who are happy to join our initiative, they will have access to a new app and extensive archive.”
An Archant insider told Press Gazette that app take-up so far had been extremely low. The Archant spokesperson said the apps were still in beta testing and would be fully launched over the coming months.
“The potential benefit of saving some money will be minimal, but the damage that the letter will do [to the brands’ reputations] can’t be measured,” one staffer at Archant said. “These are luxury magazines that people buy and advertisers advertise in because they’re something to sit down with and spend time over… you don’t get that with the app.”
Press Gazette understands that advertisers who paid for print space were not informed of the letter asking subscribers to shift onto the apps in advance.
Narinder Randhawa, national president of the Federation of Independent Retailers, said Archant’s decision “just goes to show the contempt that they have for retailers who have supported their titles for decades”.
The Fed’s head of news Brian Murphy added: “I would remind Archant, and any other publishers who may be thinking of following a similar strategy, that there are very few examples of it being successful.”
The move comes amid reports that private equity firm Rcapital has put Archant up for sale after 18 months of ownership. Archant has since sold several of its magazine titles, including Agricultural Trader and Canal Boat, to specialist publisher Kelsey Media.
Earlier this month, Sky News reported that regional rival Newsquest, owned by US publishing giant Gannett, had secured a period of exclusivity in which to strike a deal for Archant’s newspapers.
Rcapital bought Archant, which is the UK’s fourth largest local newspaper publisher, out of administration in August 2020 in a deal which left shareholders with nothing and saw the pension fund taken over by the government.