Independent paper franchise to help launch new titles

Dewsbury & District Press editor Danny Lockwood is setting up a franchise network based on his company, NewsPost, which he believes could spawn independent papers across the country.

Lockwood believes there is an army of "disaffected" editors and advertising managers working for the four major regional newspaper companies, who have the local knowledge to set up newspapers, but not necessarily the business acumen.

This is where, he says, NewsPost comes into play. After four and a half years in business, Lockwood says his company turns over more than £1m and employs 17 people, despite being in direct competition with media giant Johnston Press.

In its last available ABC certificate, covering the second half of 2005, The Press recorded a distribution of 17,286, of which 1,812 copies are sold. The next certificate is expected to show an increase to 32,585 from the week commencing 27 February.

Lockwood promises to provide a "newspaper on a disk" with advice on all the pitfalls he encountered and opportunities he seized.

Under the proposed franchise deals, NewsPost will find the majority of launch capital and provide back-office functions, such as the invoicing, debt collection and printing and distribution arrangements.

Lockwood said: "I'm not going to call it Mother Lockwood's Recipe, but it basically is. You have to tick a certain number of boxes against a pretty simple formula and we can make a good guess on whether it's right for some kind of new publication.

"We know what works for us in terms of increasing our advertising — this year it will be 500 per cent of what it was four years ago.

"The only thing we don't provide is about three Apple Macs, your broadband connection and a couple of digital cameras. Our partners will be left to write the paper and sell the ads."

Lockwood said key to the quality of the product is that all parties will have a stake in the business. The emphasis from NewsPost is on the commercial side and selling the advertising.

He said: "There are all these stories about The Sportsman going belly up and the North West Enquirer laying staff off, profit warnings all over and Trinity Mirror saying it is having a business review, which is shorthand for saying it is up for sale. You would think it was all doom and gloom in the regionals — we don't think it's bad at all.

Lockwood stated that when the Press launched he was aware of people being charged up to £4,000 for a sits vac page in the local newspaper. "That's obscene,"he said.

"The problem that the big regionals have is they are all chasing 30 per cent profit margins. They are unsustainable, especially in an industry like ours, which is already under threat."

Lockwood declined to reveal the exact terms of the franchise, but said he already has one "very experienced" ex-national and regional journalist who has approached him with an idea for a newspaper in the North.

He has also spoken to a number of public and private companies who are interested in funding local newspapers.

"The newspaper business isn't emotional, and I think that's what you get when too many journalists launch newspapers — it's entirely scientific," Lockwood said.

"For all the skill sets they have they don't have the all-round business acumen, experience or back-up to survive on their own.

"Bob Waterhouse (editor of the North West Enquirer) said he had two journalists for every advertising person and that is entirely in reverse proportion.

We understand the science of it and the politics of getting advertising through the door. We launched against one of the biggest groups in the country and four and a half years later we're a thriving little business.

"We did that because we understood why and where there would be a niche for launching a new newspaper. It's entirely about what fuels the industry — it's advertising and always has been.

"One of the reasons we survive is that we have local people who are committed to a product that they have a stake in, and that's what we are looking for.

People who want a stake in their own business who could say, ‘OK, we can't raise £100,000, but we might be able to raise some of it and we're willing to commit to that'.

"That way they are buying in and you've got people on the ground who have got the contacts, who know the marketplace and know what type of newspaper is needed."

Lockwood said he believes the big regional newspapers operate "a de facto cartel" across the UK publishing map, and said he knew of "hundreds of disaffected editors, senior journalists and advertising managers who probably have a great idea of exactly how a newspaper would work in their area".

He said: "I want to see an explosion of people doing what we've done, whether they are part of our business or not."

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