Enders: Half of regionals will close in next five years

Half of Britain’s local and regional newspapers will close within the next five years, a media analyst told parliament today.

Claire Enders, the founder and chief executive of Enders Analysis, said the outlook for the regional media looked “absolutely dire”.

She gave evidence this morning to the culture, media and sport select committee, which today launches its investigation into the future of local radio and newspapers.

Enders told the cross-party group of MPs that her research suggested there would be a 52 per cent decline in regional newspaper advertising revenue from 2007 to 2013 – the equivalent of £1.3bn a year in lost advertising cash.

She also said circulation in the same period would decline by about eight per cent.

“We are expecting that up to half of all the 1,300 titles will close in the next five years,” Enders told the committee.

“Many titles are loss-making and are being sustained by the good graces of their owners. That may not last.”

Enders added: “The local community titles are those I think are the most at risk.”

Asked if the regional newspaper industry was to blame for failing to respond to the economic challenges, Enders said: “I don’t think that newspapers can be blamed for not twigging that there was going to be this massive stock market crash. This government did not seem to have the benefit of that insight.”

The chief executives of Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press and Guardian Media Group all agreed that it was likely that most areas would be left with just one newspaper.

Johnston Press chief executive John Fry told the committee: “You’re naturally going to get a consolidation down to a single newspaper in a market – which means the whole issue of competition is solved anyway because there’ll only be one.

“The question is: Can you sustain that one?”

Sly Bailey from Trinity Mirror and Carolyn McCall from GMG agreed that some areas could be left with only one newspaper – or possibly none at all.

Bailey told the committee that her company closed 27 newspapers last year and eight so far in 2009. “Undoubtedly there will be more,” she told MPs.

McCall said she did not believe advertising would return to anything near the levels enjoyed before the recession.

“I don’t believe the prospects for recovery particularly in classified advertising are strong,” she said.

“I think to rely on any kind of recovery for advertising will not really solve the problems of the regional press.

“The structural change is too profound and the economic recession has just hammered it.”

And she said the future shape of the regional newspaper industry would involve few titles and fewer jobs.

“It’s going to be a smaller industry with less people in it,” McCall added.

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