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December 21, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:52am

Manchester Mill celebrates first year and 1,000 members with print run

By Bron Maher

Manchester-based newsletter The Mill has celebrated a year of regular publication with a special 15,000 copy print run.

Mill founder Joshi Herrmann told Press Gazette he hoped the physical edition would drive new online subscriptions.

“We’re a brand new media organisation that most people still haven’t heard of,” he said. “So my feeling was that if we did something in print, we might be able to reach people who haven’t heard of what we’re doing, or who maybe don’t spend as much time online.”

The Mill is usually published through newsletter platform Substack. Readers can subscribe for free, giving them access to one original story a week, or pay £7 a month to get stories five days a week.

[Read more: Substack invests in ‘thoughtful and nuanced’ local news in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield]

Herrmann said there appeared to have been a rise in sign-ups following the print run, although he was hesitant to conclusively link the two.

“We’ve had a really, really good week of subscriptions since then. But it’s quite difficult to tell whether that’s because of print or because we’ve had a story that’s gone really big in the last few days.

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“I was always seeing it as a bit more of a long-term thing. You get the print editions out there, people read them over Christmas, they tell their friends about The Mill and you might reach a new group of potential readers and future members. So I’m hoping over the next few months it might pay off.”

The print edition carried an exclusive longform story about Richard Leese, the long-standing leader of Manchester City Council who stood down at the start of this month.

Herrmann said the print run was originally suggested by one of The Mill’s paying members as a “celebratory pamphlet, and then it just sort of kept expanding and expanding.”

He said the idea was: “‘Let’s do a full page print edition, make it look a little bit like the TLS’ — and then ‘well, let’s make it eight pages’.

“Over three months it morphed into the idea of making a 56-page newspaper, which is what we’ve got.

“It’s really been amazing because there’s an energy you get from doing a print product, people can galvanise around it. A lot of the distribution is done by our own members… One member took 600 [copies] and distributed them around his neighbourhood in Trafford.”

The inaugural Mill paper round. Picture: @ManchesterMill

Even the design for the paper was done by Mill member Richard Heap, Herrmann said.

As well as coinciding with its first full year of publishing, the print edition came as The Mill passes the 1,000 paying subscribers mark.

“I think that there are thousands of people in cities like this who are willing to pay for high quality journalism,” Herrmann said. “And I don’t know if that’s 10,000 or 5,000 but I think there are thousands.

“The dream is to have staff writers who can spend weeks on a story. You’ll need thousands of paying subscribers to get to that point.

“I think 1,000 is really good. I’m delighted. It’s much more than I thought I would have at the end of our first full year but we need to work out how we get to 3,000 or 5,000 because that’s when you start to really have a formidable media organisation, I think.”

[Read more: Survey shows people more likely to trust local news produced on patch – and willing to pay average of £1.30 per month]

In June, Substack announced that Herrmann’s was one of 12 local journalism projects on its platform being awarded up to $100,000 to help make them sustainable.

Herrmann told Press Gazette the money had gone toward The Mill’s sister projects, the Sheffield Tribune and Liverpool Post.

“So it didn’t change much about The Mill itself, which I’ve always had an idea of how that needs to fund itself and how quickly it needs to grow,” he said. “But it allowed us to do what we really wanted to do which was fund journalists in these other cities to effectively join us and join the organisation and publish similar types of stories in those cities.”

Herrmann said his colleague Dan Hayes, formerly of the Sheffield Star, had already found 500 paying members for the Sheffield Tribune. “Which is pretty fucking good after less than six months.”

Picture: Manchester Mill

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