Newsagents and corner shops were designated an essential service by the Government last night in a “comforting” move for the industry as the UK went into lockdown to cope with the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
For the first time, every UK national newspaper publisher joined a scheme offering home news delivery as vulnerable over 70s and those with underlying health conditions were told to stay at home for 12 weeks.
Aside from key workers, who include journalists reporting on the pandemic, everyone else has also been ordered to stay at home with strict exceptions, such as daily exercise and buying basic necessities.
Greg Deacon, chief operating officer of the Federation of Independent Retailers (NFRN), told Press Gazette publishers were promoting the Deliver My Newspaper scheme with offers of free delivery for six to 12 weeks as they are “trying to maintain volumes but also trying to maintain that habit”.
“They recognise local shops play a critical role in this,” he said, adding that retailers were already seeing “a lot of benefits” from the scheme.
Deacon added: “It’s fantastic that something that’s so competitive has actually brought publishers together… to make sure they maintain that daily reading habit and providing the retailers the support.”
Reach circulation director John Howard said now was “clearly the time to come together as an industry and confront challenges together”.
Publishers are footing the bill for the free delivery offer as Deacon noted research has shown that if someone falls out of the habit of buying a paper they are less likely to do so in future.
“I think it’s important for the newspaper publishers and the retailers that normal habits and routines are maintained, so clearly publishers and newsagents are doing everything they can to make sure that’s maintained in these pressing times,” he said.
He added that he thought delivery will become the “new normal” for newspapers after this period and that it “may reignite people’s passion for newspapers”.
Deacon also said it was “comforting” that the Government had recognised the value of newsagents to their local communities.
All non-essential businesses and premises have been ordered to close. Essential businesses include newsagents, corner shops, post offices, supermarkets and pharmacies.
WH Smith, which sells newspapers and magazines alongside cards, books and stationery at more than 1,000 high street and travel shops in the UK, is closing about 60 per cent of its stores, except those it has decided come under the definition of essential.
Aside from its stores with “vital” post office services and hospital outlets offering food and drink for NHS staff, WH Smith will keep operating a “convenience offer in key small towns and travel locations where communities rely on our smaller newsagent services”.
Many local titles have also teamed up to offer free home delivery to readers through similar schemes.
Newsquest launched its own service yesterday in the North East, Yorkshire and Cumbria, with chief executive Henry Faure Walker promising it would be rolled out across the rest of the country soon.
“Local newspapers play an essential role in keeping communities informed and in the current climate this is more important than ever before,” he said.
Publishers are also collaborating to get editions to the printers and therefore also wholesalers earlier each night, easing the supply chain.
News Media Association chief executive David Newell said: “The role of newspapers in this unprecedented time of national upheaval is to inform and advise readers on how to stay safe with considered analysis of the latest developments.
“Their pages will be important in guiding the country through this crisis and providing vital content for both those isolated at home and working across the country.”
NFRN president Stuart Reddish said that independent retailers were “key to providing newspapers to inform, educate and entertain those isolated at this unprecedented time”.
“Supermarkets are under increasing pressure from customers and independent retailers must play their part in both feeding and informing the nation,” he said.
“Through home news delivery independents will not just be opening an important new revenue opportunity at a time of business uncertainty but undertaking a vital public service for the over 70s, those self isolating and the most vulnerable in our society.”
Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall