Online growth fails to offset print fall

Regional newspapers’ digital activities grew rapidly last year, but revenue from these new sources is not making up for declines in print.

A survey released by the Newspaper Society last week showed that websites operated by the regional press increased by a third, from 828 to 1,102, and online publishing jobs in the sector grew from 510 to 618.

Regional publishers’ digital revenues were up 18.3 per cent to £71m in 2006, the survey found, but this accounted for just 2.5 per cent of their advertising revenue, compared with 94.5 per cent for print. Consequently, digital growth was not offsetting the 6.5 per cent print revenue decline.

That pattern could be continuing this year. In results for the first half of 2007, Johnston Press said its 338 websites had grown 31 per cent to a total of 7.9 million unique users. Digital revenues were up 33.5 per cent, but print revenues fell by 2.9 per cent and overall revenues were flat at £312m.

In July, Johnston Press’s Peterborough Evening Telegraph website Peterborough Today reached a record level of nearly 160,000 unique users, nearly doubling since last year, chief executive Tim Bowdler said.

Johnston Press will continue to invest in its editorial and classified websites, he added: ‘It’s a journey, not a one-off destination. We’re spending around £10m this year in pure digital spend, and I see that increasing next year.”

Last month, Trinity Mirror’s interim results showed that revenue overall was slightly down, but digital revenues were growing by 23.7 per cent. Unaudited figures provided by the company showed that traffic to some Trinity Mirror regional websites has grown sharply over the past year.

Its network of sites for Newcastle has more than doubled its traffic in the past year. The sites were up 103.3 per cent to an average of 529,338 users per month in the first half of the year.

In print, the evening Newcastle Chronicle was down 6.3 per cent and the morning Journal was down 5.7 per cent. Both papers’ websites will be relaunched in the coming weeks as part of Trinity Mirror’s web redevelopment programme.

‘Over the past 12 months we’ve put more focus into breaking news, multimedia, interactivity and community – and that’s what’s delivering that growth,’said digital director David Black.

Trinity Mirror’s Liverpool sites, meanwhile, were up nearly 82 per cent to 829,278 users per month in the first half of 2007. That network includes the recently relaunched companion site for the Liverpool Echo.

Overall, Trinity Mirror’s regional sites traffic was up 41 per cent, said Black.

In Greater Manchester, MEN Media’s online network – which includes the Manchester Evening News, its weekly newspaper sites and Channel M television – increased by 22.5 per cent to 1.78 million unique users in July, according to unaudited figures provided by the company. Manchestereveningnews.co.uk accounted for 998,832 of these users. The Guardian Media Group operation is attempting to reach much of the population using a converged offering of a part-free, part-paid MEN, its stable of local weeklies, the newspapers’ websites, Channel M television and GMG’s radio interests in the area.

‘From a commercial point of view, it’s difficult because there isn’t any measurement system that goes across all the different media,’said Ruth Spratt, assistant managing director of MEN Media’s digital operations.

‘We’re selling online with an online currency; we’re selling TV, even though we don’t have BARB, with a TV currency; and we’re selling print currency, but when we’re trying to offer a multimedia solution as we are, there isn’t a multimedia measuring system,’she said.

Newsquest has not published an ABCe audit of its sites since May 2006, when its entire network had 3.53 million unique users.

Roger Green, Newsquest’s managing director for digital media, declined to give further details, but said a new ABCe audit is in progress. ‘Because web traffic numbers is such a tricky area to discuss, I prefer to stick to the audited stuff,’he said. ‘Sometimes monthly figures can be affected a great deal by a particular story. Anywhere that was flooded last month did tremendously well compared to the previous month. Averages are more useful.”

Britain’s largest-circulation regional newspaper, the Midland News Association’s Express & Star in Wolverhampton, had 162,820 unique users according to its last published ABCe audit, in April. Stablemate the Shropshire Star had 95,612 that month.

Archant Regional, which produces websites for four daily newspapers and more than 70 weeklies, says its traffic was up 66 per cent year-on-year in July, but could not provide more details.

Kent Messenger Group’s KentOnline.co.uk had 148,456 unique users in a January ABCe audit, a 31.8 per cent increase over 2006.

Cumbrian Newspapers’ News & Star in Carlisle was relatively flat online over the past six months, hovering around 150,000 unique users each month according to unaudited figures provided by the company.

Associated Northcliffe Digital did not provide figures for its regional thisis sites. In January, it reported that thisisDerbyshire is its largest site, with 251,286 users.

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