Four years ago, in one of the conclusions of my research study into the UK’s regional newspaper sector, I recommended that consolidation should take place quickly.
The creation of Local World three years ago was the first small move in that direction; the establishment of the enlarged Trinity Mirror is the next logical step, showing that the industry is beginning to accept publicly, at least, the realities of life.
News plurality in regional and local markets broadly disappeared, with some exceptions, in the 1960s, so it is not a new issue; it really isn’t. Group CEOs do not act (and never have acted) as some form of latter-day Lord Beaverbrooks in telling their editors what to think. They let them get on with it.
This debate on plurality means that a view that news can be funded by numerous compact organisations has evolved. Wishful thinking that ‘small is good’ ignores the financial truth of the real world in which advertising and marketing plurality via the internet is very much alive and kicking.
So why is an arrangement that gives one business control of around 30% of this market (and probably more like 45% if the Evening Standard and Metros are ignored) such a good move?
The main answer is simple: there is no alternative. In a business where the industry made the disastrous decision, some twenty years ago, to give away its product, the only way forward is to optimise revenues and minimise expenses.
Trinity Mirror can further reduce overheads; increase group spending power; harness to a greater extent the enlarged total numbers of visitors to its sites; and focus more attentively on the quality of the end product.
But the main opportunity is an opening much more challenging – the possibility of being radical.
The one-size-fits-all model that the sector has been pursuing for the past ten years doesn’t appear to be working; digital visitors may be increasing but print is in freefall and revenues are uninspiring.
With so many different brands and titles, Trinity Mirror can try different methods of crafting its wares, to see if other ways may work better – without damaging the whole business.
Trinity Mirror is now the sum of some of the great British regional companies, which in the 1980s and 1990s were genuinely trying to do things differently (TRN, Northcliffe and the original Trinity itself). Here is the chance to rekindle some of that mood.
Alan Geere disagrees! He thinks the takeover of Local World is not a good thing. Read his article here.