Will challenges to the red tops leave them feeling blue?

Tabloid newspapers are facing probably their biggest challenge, according to industry experts who cite the growth of online news, the erosion of print advertising revenues and the expansion of celebrity and lifestyle magazines as having had the biggest impact on the red tops’ traditional business model.

Add to that the growth of free papers, such as Metro, in many cities and it’s clear that there are many competitors for the traditional red-top readership. Both Trinity Mirror and News International have come to understand that a large part of the future of their business is online – either through PC screens or mobile phones.

Former Daily Mirror editor Roy Greenslade said tabloids are facing their most ‘challenging and threatening’time in his 43-year career.

‘It’s hell for the editors,’he said. ‘I have sympathy for Rebekah [Wade] and Richard [Wallace]. We are watching audiences migrate from print to online and it’s a question of how you maintain as high a print audience as you make that transition to the net. Advertising on newsprint remains much higher than on the net, but when you eventually go to the net you get rid of the distribution costs.

‘Trying to ride two horses at once [print and online publishing] is a difficult trick – and it’s really a case of who’s the cleverest rider; is it Sly [Bailey, Trinity Mirror chief executive] or is it Rupert [Murdoch, News International proprietor]?”

Lorna Tilbian, media analyst for Numis Securities, said the main challenge for red tops is that a generation is growing up that is not one of natural newspaper buyers. The ready availability of real-time news and gossip on the internet is more attractive to many of the red tops’ potential readers. She said: ‘The red tops need to accelerate what they are doing. They are launching publications like thelondonpaper and London Lite in an attempt to get that younger generation reading again; giving it out for free.

‘So against that one negative they are trying to do something and they are developing the websites so they can compete with online offerings. They do have to accelerate the efforts and make the online versions free.

‘If those readers aren’t buying the newspaper anyway, then the red tops are not losing a reader. History has shown us that if you are an ostrich and keep your head in the sand, then you lose everything. You’ve got to try to hold on to the existing readership with all the free offers and promotions, et cetera, and also have an offering that appeals to the non-readers and the young.”

Ben Todd, the editor of Emap’s lads’ weekly Zoo, has eight-and-a-half years’ experience in tabloid newspapers, his last role before switching to mags a year ago was assistant editor (showbiz) on the Sunday Mirror.

He believes the biggest challenge is stopping, or at least reducing, the circulation decline of

traditional printed media – and working out how best to marry the printed product with newspapers’ websites and the internet.

‘I think some publishers have [adapted] – some haven’t. But tabloid journalism is not in danger. Anything but,’he said.

‘The world has, in fact, never been more eager for news in bite-size form – that’s what the internet revolves around. Traditional tabloid newspapers just have to work out how best to maximise this to their best advantage, in both revenue and readership terms.

‘The best way to succeed will not change. It comes from delivering crisply edited stories that appeal to as many readers as possible – be it via print, website, mobile phone, whatever.”

Matt Kelly, associate editor of development at the Mirror, said at the Edinburgh TV festival that the Mirror’s print product remained the most important element. ‘The only model that works is to hold exclusives for the paper,’he said, adding that ‘real competition is mobile further down the line – news in the pocket”.

Like Telegraph.co.uk, Mirror.co.uk has a deal with ITN to receive broadcast news clips, but Kelly was cautious of Trinity Mirror turning into a ‘TV company’when asked what kind of reporter the Mirror will be hiring in five years’ time.

‘I doubt that the newspaper is not going to be our core revenue drive,’he added.

‘It’s all the more importantly our preferred platform for exclusive stories, because we believe that’s where they work best. In the foreseeable future our method of disseminating exclusives will be print.”

Unlike News International, Trinity Mirror does not publish its web-traffic figures for its national titles through ABCe. The Sun has seen a marked increase this year and this month broke the 10 million-mark for monthly unique users for the first time.

Mirror.co.uk is audited through ComScore, which measures newspapers’ servers and surveys a number of randomly selected users. It has just less than one million UK unique users, nearly 1.5 million worldwide, The Sun is ahead on ComScore ratings with about four million UK uniques, six million worldwide.

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