Time to ditch sackcloth and ashes and start rebuilding regional press

Paidcontent has totted up the figures and found that more than £500m was knocked off the revenue of the major UK regional newspaper publishers in 2009.

The detailed breakdown makes fairly depressing reading, especially when you consider that around one in five jobs in the industry appear to have been sacrificed in order to keep businesses in profit.

But taking a glass-is-half-full approach to this, it is pretty amazing that every single major regional newspaper publisher still made a profit in 2009. Typically they delivered profit margins of around 10 per cent.

In any other industry a 10 per cent margin would be cause for celebration at the best of times, but this was the worst year in modern history for the regional press.

At the tail-end of 2008 revenue went off a cliff as everyone suddenly stopped buying cars and houses or recruiting any staff. It seemed like the end of life as we knew it.

But here we are on the other side of the hurricane and every major publisher made money in 2009. How many other industries can say that?

Johnston Press today managed to deliver a 16.8 per cent operating profit margin.

It’s been a tough couple of years for regional newspapers, and no-one wanted to pop champagne corks while so many colleagues were being made redundant – hence the cancellation of the Regional Press Awards and the Newspaper Society Awards.

But isn’t it time to ditch the sackcloth and ashes and start thinking about building again in the regions? With so much cost having been cut, I suspect regional media is going to start making serious money again as the economy rebounds in 2010 if owners can somehow keep the editorial quality up.

Awards are all about celebrating the excellence which underpins the profits, and if Trinity Mirror, Newsquest and Johnston Press (the companies who were most reluctant to support the £39 a pop entry fee to the Regional Press Awards) can’t see that then they are very short-sighted indeed.

And as Press Gazette no longer organises the event, which is owned by Wilmington, my comments are not motivated by self interest. This however is:

BLATANT PLUG

One event that will be celebrating regional press success stories is Press Gazette and Kingston University’s Local Heroes conference on 14 May, for more details click on the link.

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