What the editors of The Sun and The Guardian think about the future of newspapers
The UK news industry is becoming really confusing.
As one UK newspaper — the Independent — announced it will end its print edition, another newspaper — Trinity Mirror's the New Day — was born weeks later. While just months after The Sun tore down its online paywall to gain a larger audience, the Guardian admitted that, in spite of its own huge online following of 158 million browsers, it needs to cut costs by 20%.
Amid the uncertainty, there are few figures in a better position to explain the trends in UK media than The Sun's editor, Tony Gallagher, and Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian. The Sun is the most popular newspaper in the UK, with an average daily circulation of more than 1.78 million, according to its latest ABC report, while The Guardian posted 266 million global visitors in January, according to SimilarWeb.
Both journalists were speaking at newspaper marketing agency Newsworks' Shift 2016 conference in London on Tuesday and shared their views on the future of newspapers.
Here's what we learned:
How to make money online
Neither Viner nor Gallagher believe that their publications can be sustained through advertising revenue alone. Viner explained that the Guardian hopes to re-energize its membership scheme to generate more revenue from its most loyal readers. Guardian membership currently gives access to exclusive, live events featuring journalists and cultural figures. The cost ranges from £5 ($6.96) to £60 ($83.52) a month.
But The Guardian isn't looking at an online paywall. She said (emphasis ours):
"What we’re looking at is how you can get ... readers to become more loyal and turn them from being loyal readers into members. One of things i’ve found, particularly since I’ve got the job, is that people say to me all the time 'How can I give you money? I feel guilty that I read you so much, I use you so much, I watch your videos all day, but I don’t pay you any money.' So we want to help them out with that desire ... We will not be introducing a paywall, no. So it’s about a deeper relationship and getting them to pay …"
Shift 2016Recently free-to-access-online, The Sun is looking towards other money making ventures that fit with its brand. It already makes profit from Dream Team, a fantasy football game, and soon The Sun will become a bookmaker, with Sun Bets expected to launch this year. Gallagher said:
"One of the biggest things we’ll be doing this year, the company has high hopes for launching Sun Bets, which is hoping to go live around the time of the launch of the new Premier League season in August. There are 14 million people that bet in the UK — about 55% of them are regular Sun readers — we think that’s very good for us, it’s one of the areas we’re keen to expand in. Look, I think the future for news brands is going to be a variety of revenue streams and it’s not just going to be cover price any more than it’s going to be advertising and … as Katherine Viner highlighted, we all need to look to our strengths to see that there are areas that we can play in to be successful for a long time in a sustainable future."
Print vs Online
It's a question people have been asking ever since the internet became mainstream, but it's nevertheless still being asked: Is print media dying for good?
"Hmm, I don't know," responded Viner when she was asked that question on stage. "I mean, I think that, you know, anything we put out with The Guardian’s name on it should be really good. I think we should be producing really good newspapers. You know The Guardian and The Observer should be as good as we can make them. I think the future is digital and definitely we should be investing in innovation and digital. But they’re still different sorts of readers."
She later added: "Last year, the revenue we got from print readers actually went up." The Guardian Media Group's total revenues rose 3% to £214.6m ($298 million) in the year to March 29, 2015, with the company saying in its annual report "increases in digital and new product revenue more than offsetting declines in print revenue."
Gallagher, whose print business is the key to The Sun newspaper's success, was more confident when discussing the relative merits of print journalism compared to online journalism:
"I’m not sure that I see it as a binary choice: how much time do I spend thinking about print journalism, or how much time do I spend thinking about digital journalism. The model I think for most newsrooms has to be to think about both instinctively ... Although we have all these new brands arriving, the reliance on traditional media is as important as ever. And I think it’s beyond dispute that newspapers continue to drive the national conversation."
Shift 2016Both Viner and Gallagher agreed that the industry has moved far beyond the question of whether social media could ever replace traditional media. Viner described social media as leading us to a "dark ages of false information," with "everything flying." She added:
"I feel that there has been a move back towards brands that people trust to verify and sort of separate through the speculation and the rumor and the falsity."
Gallagher talked about the changing relationships with established social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. He said Facebook was clearly the most important in terms of driving traffic to The Sun website, but noticed changes in the uses of Twitter. He said:
"Most reporters are on Twitter in some format or other. Although I’ve noticed myself over the last couple of years that it’s probably changed from being a driver of traffic, to essentially a keen competitor for the likes of the [news wire service] Press Association. People now use it as a news source, but I’m not sure it’s a massive traffic driver unless you’re the likes of Jeremy Clarkson or Piers Morgan. And, if anything, I think there’s a tendency for some social media forms, particularly Twitter more than others, to become a bit of an echo-chamber, with a group-think system of everybody deciding something’s terrible or something’s wonderful and it’s led to a loss of thought amongst journalists."
Innovation: From branded apps to Snapchat
As well as talking about finding new ways to drive traffic to their websites, the two editors were keen to talk about other brand building innovations. Viner explained a new product:
"We launched this new product, which I’d love everyone to sign for. It’s called 'The Minute' and you can sign up for it in the Guardian app and it takes you one minute to read. It’s very visual. It’s built for smart phones and it tells you what happened in the election campaign today in one minute. It’s quite jokey, quite fun, as I say, very visual. So we’re kind of pushing on all fronts. It’s been very interesting and newsy and you know, we’re trying to be innovative at the same time."
Later, Gallagher talked excitedly about The Sun's launch on Snapchat Discover:"We think that the irreverence that we bring to the party will be perfect for Snapchat Discover."
However, as with The Sun's paywall, Gallagher recognized that new projects can fail and if that happens again with other projects, it is important to abandon them, before wasting too much time and resources on them.
He said of the venture into Snapchat Discover: "If it’s not working I would advise binning it in a couple of years, not persisting with something. We think it will work, but if any of these things don’t work, don’t persist with them for years."