newspapers

The Tabloid Guardian

It has now been over a week since The Guardian, and sister paper The Observer, both rebranded. Perhaps more saliently, they also reshaped themselves, moving from the unique “Berliner” format to a tabloid.

Now in some respects I feel unusual these days in still buying a physical printed paper.

“It’s all online.”

“You can get it free.”

“Why do you pay for it?”

These are some of the responses you get when people see you with a newspaper.

It’s true that my station has a well-stocked bin of Metros in the morning, and I can easily pick up an Evening Standard on the way home. That’s before you consider editions of Time Out, NME, Stylist, Shortlist or a load more freebies in central London.

I have a phone and a tablet, so I can get the news on that.

And it’s also true that sometimes when I get to the paper, even in the morning, I find I’ve already read the article on line the day before. Sometimes with arts material it can be several days before (The Guardian seem to put its book coverage up around Thursday ahead of the Saturday “Review” supplement).

But printed papers are great for lots of reasons. You can get them all over the place, and you can read them anywhere. They don’t go flat, and they (can) have powerful design.

There’s also the editorial nourishment. When presented with a digital list of stories, we tend to click on the things we’re interested in. Actually these days, we probably don’t even go to a homepage (although with Facebook’s recent announcement about downplaying news in people’s feeds, we may see a greater importance of these), but tend to get to stories via links shared in social media.

I buy The Guardian because it has strong editorial. Much of the news in free newspapers is bland agency copy. Metro is never going to invest in major investigations like The Paradise Papers for example.

A week in, my first impressions of the paper is that it looks an awful lot like The Independent did once it had gone tabloid. Not so much in content as in style. It seems slightly harder to differentiate papers in a tabloid world than it is in a broadsheet one.

The new version of the paper has obviously had a major redesign, beyond simply shrinking the paper, with a new masthead and new fonts. The Guardian has always been more likely to go through redesigns than other papers. When The Times went tabloid, it was more about how they could continue to use the same fonts and stylistic devices in the “compact” format.

The Telegraph has not really had a major redesign at all. With the FT, it is now alone as a broadsheet (The Sunday Times notwithstanding). Of course, it is a hollow remnant of what it once was – a bit like one of those new-builds where they’re required to keep the front facade.

There’s a strapline above the masthead on the first day said that the paper had two pullout sections. Originally I thought that these might be G2 and Sport as previously. But Sport has returned to the back of the paper, which is probably a good place for it to be, since in truth, some days it really felt as though it was being padded out to fill even 8 pages.

G2 is a pullout as before, but the second pullout is Journal – essentially the opinion parts of the middle of the paper, alongside obituaries, and the puzzles that used to form the back of the main Berliner section of the paper. Indeed the back pages of both pullout sections contain puzzles now.

Having Journal as a pullout does mean that one of my favourite features of the Berliner format paper has been retained – Eyewitness, which acts as a double-page spread for a featured photo.

Seeing photos printed big is another reason that printed newspapers remain superior.

The new tabloid Guardian is now printed by Mirror Group presses – part of the cost savings that the shrinking of the paper is designed to help with. I was a little worried that the printing quality might deteriorate, but in fact it’s perfectly fine.

I’m less certain about the new masthead’s design, but as with previous iterations, it’ll no doubt grow on me. All lowercase does feel very “90s”, and the return to proper capitalisation is to be admired. But the change of font, masthead, paper size and overall design means that everything has changed at once. This isn’t a half-hearted measure.

What you can’t help noticing is the number of advertisements in the paper – or lack of them.

Print advertising continues to decline across the industry as digital advertising cleans up. While I think print always did well, over-achieving for its readership, advertising was and remains a vital part of the mix for a publisher, and those advertising declines must hurt.

Diamond Geezer notes that fewer “newsagents” carry print at all, becoming convenience stores rather than purveyors of printed material.

In fact, I don’t think lack of access is the real killer for newspapers, but it almost certainly is for magazines. Newsagents carry ever diminishing ranges of magazines, meaning that if you don’t subscribe to a title, you may struggle to find it on any shelf space anywhere. Even W H Smith, the last bastion of magazines in the High Street, seems to allocate less space to them. (W H Smith is a bit of a basket case anyway, not knowing really what it wants to be. Only the travel branches in stations and airports seem to have got the mix right, even if they wildly overcharge for confectionery)

Friday’s paper is always a late week highlight since it carries film and music reviews. The revamped G2 still carries these but somehow there feel, at least in the first week, to be fewer of them. Not so much films as music. Previously you could expect perhaps a couple of pages of pop/rock reviews and then a page of other music including classical, jazz and, well, non-pop music.

There seems less of that now, and I’m going to miss that. I still like reading printed music reviews, and while I know that I can find music blogs to help, they often feel like they serve certain niches. I want to read about a folk release alongside the big mainstream pop release, and a new classical album.

Saturday’s Guardian was always my favourite day of the week, even if I shed certain sections as quickly as I could. I barely ever opened the Family section, while the Travel section would only grab my attention if there was somewhere I was interested about on the cover. The Cook section would always get recycled unread. I’d flick through the magazine, and get stuck into The Guide. But key for me were a chunky main section, a good sport supplement and most important of all, the Review section.

The new-look paper has been rejigged a bit. Cook becomes Feast and is printed on higher quality paper. They expect people to hang onto these as they’re even selling boxes to collect them in! I must admit that it does look good, and they’ve poached Grace Dent as their restaurant critic, and she’s always worth a read.

The Guide is broadly speaking the same, although sadly it seems that David Hepworth’s radio column has bitten the dust. (It feels there are barely any radio critics left. Gillian Reynolds has just left the Telegraph after 42 years, although she’s apparently taking over Paul Donovan’s position at The Sunday Times, even though she’s 82! There’s also Miranda Sawyer at The Observer, who now covers podcasts as much as radio, if not more. Is there now actually anyone else?)

Sport is still in place, and the main section of the paper seems to be broadly unchanged. None of the features I liked to read seem to have gone anywhere.

And I’m especially pleased that although the Review section has had a massive redesign, it’s importance remains. It’s now printed on high quality paper and although it too may have slimmed a tiny amount, it treats its subject properly and is probably the best newspaper book section.

The Observer also has a new masthead, making it clear that it’s the Sunday edition of The Guardian rather than a separate entity. The main section stays largely in place, while sport is as good as ever, even if it has an unhealthily skewed belief in the importance of rugby union. The New Review is largely as it was before, just rejigged and resized. And the magazine remains largely unchanged, in that I rarely even bother to open it up (although it does at least review the odd bicycle alongside cars in their transport bit).

Also notable in the rebranding has been putting the new branding into all The Guardian’s various digital assets. That seemed to happen very smoothly even though you know it must have been a complex procedure.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with things. I’d like the new font to be a little more different to those used by The Times and The Independent (when it was still being published), and it’ll be interesting to see if they ever succumb to the temptation The Indie had to keep using the front page to cover single issues.

(As a sidenote, I saw The Post last weekend, the new Steven Spielberg film starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, covering the story of The Washington Post and the publication of the Pentagon Papers. What remains amazing to me, and is largely still the case today in the US with the New York Times and The Washington Post, is that even when you’re breaking the biggest story in a generation, the story shares the front page with a lot of other stories. Even today, that remains the case.)

What’s really key about all of this is that the paper stays on track in reducing its losses and gets to a break-even point so that the money in the coffers there to support the paper doesn’t run down.

Ofcom on Audience Attitudes to Broadcast Media

Ofcom, the UK broadcast regulator, carries out an awful lot of research, most of which it publishes on its website. But people are lazy, and they mostly just look at executive summaries and press releases.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are often copious appendices with much more detail, and beyond that there are tables – tables and tables of data (1429 pages in this instance). Because Ofcom carries out a number of regular “tracker” surveys. And although the data tends to get used in a variety of reports, there’s some that just sits there, online, awaiting someone to take a look.

Ofcom has just published a report on Audience Attitudes to UK Broadcast Media. This is largely distilled from its most recent “Media Tracker”, and you can find the report, an appendix and the data tables here.

Ofcom’s news release concentrates on what kind of hardware people now use for their media, and what people are taking offence at on television. But I’ll sidestep those a little and consider a few different findings.

I think the findings on Product Placement are particularly interesting. Only 36% of adults are aware of Product Placement according the research, with the perhaps more media-savvy 35-44s being most aware. Now I should say that the question is a little confusing asking about trailers and promotions as well – which is possibly a different sort of thing in a viewer’s mind. But nonetheless, that’s a low number.

Product Placement Awareness

Perhaps more concerning is the awareness of the “P” logo that it used to tell audiences that a programme contains product placement. Only 14% of respondents could correctly identify it. A further 19% said they recognised it, but couldn’t correctly identify what it means, while the remaining 67% couldn’t recall seeing it at all.

Awareness of PP Logo

That’s pretty damning.

Now it might be arguable that Product Placement hasn’t taken off in the UK to the extent it was expected to when the rules were relaxed to allow it. We don’t tend to see characters in dramas extolling the virtues of a particular vehicle (“Heroes” anyone?), and a lot of the more regular Product Placement has taken place has taken place in daytime TV. But ITV has used it regularly in series like The X-Factor and Coronation Street, and Channel 4 has used it in Hollyoaks and Sunday Brunch amongst others. So we’re talking about some of the biggest shows on those respective channels.

Ofcom takes the view these days that commercial activity is fine as long as the audience knows it’s being advertised to. And I think in some programmes it’s pretty clear, or even unsubtle. But at other times it’s built into the fabric of a programme to a greater extent – literally part of the scenery. And if audiences are not understanding the cues, then work needs to be done.

Back in 2011, there was a consumer advertising campaign to explain the concept, but that was a long time ago, and it’s message has not stuck. Perhaps a refresh is in order?

Elsewhere, Ofcom’s research suggests that 20% of households have a smart TV, with 70% having hooked their sets up to broadband. That does feel very low in overall terms. However viewers aren’t limited to using their TV for catch-up programming, and 51% of households have some kind of access to it on their TV screen, rising to 64% among 35-44s (but only 22% of 65+ households).

Connected Devices

(Note that people can obviously connect more than one device to a TV, so the sum of the parts add up to more than 51% here).

I think the biggest takeout from this question is the amount of use people get from games consoles to receive smart TV. As someone who hasn’t switched on his dusty Xbox 360 in perhaps two years, you can sometimes forget the importance of these.

It also seems that’s a lot of work to be done for homes that aren’t yet connecting up their TVs with on demand television. It’s no wonder that a lot of Sky’s growth is coming from Now TV, and that Chromecast should still be important for Google. And with Apple now reported to have ditched plans for a TV, they’re now said to be concentrating again on an updated Apple TV device.

What about radio? While Ofcom leads points out the varying degrees of offence taken at bad language, violence and sex on television, radio is practically completely inoffensive.

offence

I must admit – I’m not completely certain that this is a good thing. I’m not asking for lots of shock jocks, or the replacement of song’s “radio edits” with their unexpurgated versions at breakfast, I do sometimes think that boundaries need to be pushed a little. Radio can sometimes be too safe. Audiences should be challenged.

The other interesting slide is on the amount of advertising carried by radio.

advertising

Now to be fair, I find it staggering that 15% of respondents wouldn’t mind a bit more advertising. Although this question is asked of commercial radio listeners, I wonder if they don’t skew a bit more BBC. Anyway, a rather chunkier 29% of listeners think there’s already too much advertising. And I think that becomes a bigger problem as subscription audio services begin to build. We’ve seen Apple poaching not just Zane Lowe, but other radio producers, suggesting they at least are going to build a product that’s closer to traditional radio. If your station’s clock is so crammed full of advertising, promotions, promotional trails and jingles, that you barely have time left for your presenter to say something, then you might want to have another look at what you’re doing.

Finally a couple of slides highlighting newspapers. And not in a good way. The most intrusive medium? Not very surprising.

intrusive

And then there’s accuracy in the news. Before the election, I argued that newspapers’ influence was greatly over-exaggerated. And even post an election with a result that nobody was expecting, and with commentators broadly agreeing that the newspapers (who were largely pro-Conservative) must have had an effect, I still disagree. I think there were larger issues at play.

Take a look at this slide on who people think present news the most accurately.

most accurate news

Only 6% of people say that newspapers are the most accurate source of news. So that’s the media that determines a voter’s mind?

And broadcasters are seen as much more impartial than newspapers.

impartiality

So newspapers are neither accurate nor impartial. Even allowing for the fact that they’re much more opinionated, that really doesn’t suggest to me that voters switched because of what a newspaper told them to do.

The Power of Newspapers… Or Lack Thereof

It's_The_Sun_Wot_Won_It

After the 1992 election when John Major defeated Neil Kinnock, The Sun published a now famous headline: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It.” I suspect that this is now a standard text that pupils examine in their GCSE Politics courses. Did The Sun really win it? Or were they just reading the runes and backing the winners?

Of course there’s no question. Murdoch has only ever wanted to back a winner. You don’t sell more papers than anybody else by ignoring your readers.

But whatever the extent of The Sun’s impact on that election, more than thirty years ago now, it’s all frankly rather quaint that we’re still talking about the importance of UK newspapers in this election in 2015.

I love newspapers as I’ve often expressed on this website. I still buy an actual paper copy every day. But they’ve long been in decline in their paper format. Here’s a chart I’ve lifted from The Media Briefing (Sadly, ABC figures are not easy to source historically if you’re not a subscriber). It’s a year or so old, but it shows how far we’ve come.

uknewspaper2001-2014

Yes, there is an internet readership for most of these titles, but there’s much less loyalty – search or social media is as likely to drive a reader to your site as any kind of brand loyalty. Do you really think that people who browse the Mail Online’s sidebar of shame at work in their lunch-hour really care what the editorial line of the print paper is?

So I believe that it’s only fair to conclude that with fewer people reading paper copies, they have less influence than ever.

Which I think makes it almost endearing that so many people have such an interest in which way papers suggest we should vote. Newspapers are actually pretty lucky that television and radio are bound by impartiality rules in the UK, unlike the US. With the BBC and ITV playing a straight bat with news, it’s down to newspaper to add opinion, and partisan politics. And to make coverage interesting, broadcasters turn to print to get a sniff of some of that opinion. Hence “Newspaper Reviews” on the news channels. (You never see a newspaper paying as much interest to Panorama or Dispatches.)

The vast majority of our national press is right wing. But then so are their older readers. The young don’t buy newspapers. The best they might do is pick up Metro in the morning. And nobody really cares about Metro’s editorial line.

I rather think we’ve reached a turning point now and that frankly newspapers can say whatever they like – even if in the case of The Independent that seems to go against everything their readers believe. In a double-Lebedev-whammy, the London Evening Standard came out for the Tories today, when in fact they’re likely to lose a decent number of seats in the capital to Labour.

But simply put, newspapers won’t affect the outcome of this election. So stop frothing about it on Twitter. The Sun might be reprinting an old photo of Ed Miliband, but I’m only seeing it because left-leaning people on Twitter are getting angry about it. I care no more than if it had been another Royal baby photo.

There’s a lot of hysteria on front pages at the moment. Yet is there a single buyer of the Daily Mail who’s going to vote Labour? They’re simply preaching to the choir… The Independent notwithstanding.

Why should we care what the papers say any more than what Buzzfeed says? Or Zoella? Or the Lad Bible? Or Mumsnet? Or Digital Spy? Frankly, those people and sites might have more sway were they to express an opinion.

Buying a Copy of The Times

It really shouldn’t be this hard.

If I want to buy a newspaper, and there are some of us who still do, then it’s pretty easy. I go into a local newsagent, garage or supermarket, pick up a copy and hand over some money.

Yes, the newsagent might want me to place an order with him. I still see the paperboy out delivering copies to people who buy a paper that way. But I can just buy a one-off copy with no effort. There’s no hard sell from the newsagent trying to upsell me or anything. I just leave with my paper.

So why is it digitally so much more complicated?

Case in point. I wanted to buy a copy of The Times. I did actually visit the newsagent earlier in the day to buy a Guardian (I buy a paper copy daily). But I forgot that there was something in The Times that I also wanted to read. The Times, you will recall, puts all its online news behind a paywall. That’s their strategy, and that’s fine. I’m willing to pay for it in this instance.

OK. I want today’s Times. So I’ll just use my tablet.

I pop into Google News-stand as that’s the default way to buy such things in the Android ecosystem.

But a search within that section for “The Times” gives me the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Hindustan Times as the top three results. “The Times” – the London one – isn’t in there.

No sign o’ “The Times” – as Prince mightn’t have said.

OK. Maybe they don’t sell through the generic News-stand product. An odd choice, but I’m sure they have their reasons. They’ll have an app.

They do. I download and install it. Great.

Could I buy today’s issue?

No.

I could choose to subscribe to the Classic Pack, Web Rolling or Digital Pack.

Look, I understand that a whole week of web access is only marginally more than the £1.40 cover price in newsagents. So why wouldn’t I buy a week’s worth of papers for £2? But I just wanted today’s paper – not an ongoing subscription that I have to remember to cancel at a later date.

So I gave up there and headed over to Amazon.

I first opened the Kindle App on my tablet and went to the store. In the newspapers section The Times and Sunday Times (Kindle Edition) are the top listed papers. Excellent!

But there was some green writing just underneath: “Digital download not supported on this mobile site.”

What could that mean? I clicked through anyway, and was again offered a monthly subscription. I could also take a 14 day trial which would surely be the cheapest way to get access to today’s copy. But again, that requires me to cancel in a few days to avoid an ongoing subscription fee.

However, below that was a button allowing me to buy the current issue for 99p!

Finally! And a bit cheaper than the paper copy.

I clicked “Buy Now” but nothing really happened.

The paper certainly wasn’t showing up in my Kindle App.

I went to the website, via a laptop and checked my Amazon account.

Nope, I hadn’t been charged for it. That must have been what that cryptic writing was about. Even though I was able to click a 1-Click button within the app’s browser, I hadn’t actually bought a copy.

So, this time – on the laptop – I again purchased that day’s copy of The Times for 99p. It went through this time. It was mine! A couple of eco-systems later, I was just moments away from reading it.

Back in the app I re-synced a few times, but nothing was downloading.

Hmm.

Over on the website, there was a note on the Amazon page that said, “Available on these devices.”

Hovering my mouse over the link revealed that the download I’d just paid for could only be read on a variety of Kindle hardware devices. Specifically there was no access via the Kindle app!

Now I do own a Kindle. But I was at work, and it’s at home with a flat battery because I mostly read anything Kindle related in their app on my tablet.

Fantastic. If I’d known that, then I’d have picked up a copy on the way home, from the newsagent. It’s just easier.

Newspaper circulations continue to fall, and yet newspapers seem to go out of their way to make it hard to buy copies in a digital age. It really shouldn’t be more convenient for me to head out to a newsagent and buy a physical copy than download one on the device of my choosing.

I understand that subscriptions are what every publisher wants. But I’m the kind of person who will still buy occasional copies of papers (I already subscribe to The Guardian, Economist and NYT – the latter two digitally – so tying myself into more subscriptions isn’t really in my interests). Indeed newspapers are still very interested in the occasional reader. That’s why they use the bit above the masthead to sell to readers how exciting that day’s product is for them.

If you make it hard for me to buy a single copy, then you’re actively working against your own interests.

I’ve no idea what kind of deals The Times has struck that might prevent them from offering The Times in the Kindle App, but I noticed afterwards that had I bought a copy of, say The Guardian, via the Kindle store, I could quite easily have read it in said App. Limiting The Times to “old school” Kindle devices is an utterly absurd restriction that they seem to have imposed.

The Times in particular seems dead set against selling access to individual copies.

Interestingly, I didn’t really even consider The Times’ website via a laptop as a first course of action, since reading the paper on a 7 inch tablet seemed the most natural way to go. Yet even visiting the website reveals that they still want you to subscribe. Even if you only want to read a single article, you need to subscribe for a week – a subscription that will roll unless you cancel it.

I know that The Times is doing pretty decently in terms of numbers with their paywall model. In a recent Media Show on Radio 4, 390,000 was the number of cumulative print & digital, and digital only subscribers that they had. So part of their strategy is working.

But why won’t they let me buy a single copy?