Nearly three months ago the new fangled Guardian burst upon the world. Helped by give-away copies and a lot of marketing, its circulation soared. Now most of that promotion has abated, it is possible to make a pretty accurate assessment of whether or not the new Berliner format has been a success.
My estimate is that the paper is selling between 30,000 and 35,000 more copies a day than it was this time last year. According to industry figures, in the week ending 26 November, it sold an average of 306,000 copies a day Monday to Friday, excluding foreign sales and bulks. These are actual news-stand sales that take no account of so-called "bulks" and foreign sales, which can be manipulated to inflate the headline ABC figure. In the corresponding week last year, the paper sold an average of 273,000 copies a day on the same basis. So there has been an increase of 33,000 year on year.
A couple of points should be made. I have excluded Saturday 26 November because on that day The Guardian gave away a DVD which added about 100,000 sales over the previous Saturday. This gives rise to a temporary distortion which we would be wise to ignore. The second point is that the paper's headline November ABC figure is likely to stand at an average of about 400,000 copies a day as against 377,000 a day 12 months ago. The headline difference of only 23,000 (as opposed to the real increase of 30,000 to 35,000 mentioned above) can be explained by the slightly greater number of bulks included in the November 2004 figure.
Can an increase of some 30,000 copies a day be judged a success? The Guardian's management evidently regards it as such. There is a fair degree of mutual back-slapping. Neither Alan Rusbridger, the paper's editor, nor Carolyn McCall, its managing director, is planning to hand back the bonuses (£150,000 and £195,000 respectively) which each received by way of a reward before the first Berliner was even printed. Of course, if you have spent more than £100m on a re-launch (new presses to print the Berliner format and buildings to house them, plus marketing) you have an interest in declaring the whole thing a triumph. But the rest of us are free to ask whether a lift of 30,000 copies a day is a reasonable pay-back for an investment of more than £100m.
One way of answering that question is to ask whether the paper could have got equivalent increases by going tabloid, thereby saving some £80m spent on new Berliner presses. It is impossible to be sure, but 11 weeks after going tabloid The Independent had put on about 35 per cent in news-stand sales and The Times some 11 per cent, as against some 10 per cent for The Guardian. Arguably, as the third in the line, The Guardian would have done less well than the other two if it had adopted a tabloid format, but it would have surely put on some sales. Is the difference between what it might have achieved as a tabloid and what it has done as a Berliner worth £80m?
I would have thought not - for a normal newspaper company with its eye on the bottom line. But The Guardian, sustained by the highly profitable Guardian Media Group, need not worry about such sordid matters as profits. It does not answer to shareholders but to the worthies who sit on the Scott Trust. They are most unlikely to examine with any degree of objectivity the wisdom of spending £80m on new presses when a tabloid printed on existing presses might have produced the same result.
What the rest of us can say is that the Berliner format is unlikely to be adopted by any other British publishing company. My strong suspicion, based on the Guardian's relatively modest gains, is that the Berliner appeals more to journalists than it does to readers, who may scarcely differentiate it from a tabloid. I must say that this slightly surprises me. I expected a Berliner Guardian to do rather better than it has, as I am sure Alan Rusbridger also did in his heart.
End of an era as DMGT sells off its 'crown jewels'
The sale of Northcliffe News- papers by Daily Mail and General Trust is a seismic event. DMGT is selling a big chunk of itself. Northcliffe, comprising some 100 regional newspapers, contributed an operating profit of £102m in the year to October out of a pre-tax profit for DMGT of £253m.
What on earth is DMGT up to? The only conclusion is that it does not think it can continue to make as much money out of Northcliffe in the future as it has in the past. Despite a bout of recently announced cost-cutting at Northcliffe, DMGT is not a company that likes cutting to the bone, and in the short-term a ruthless venture capitalist could make more money out of Northcliffe than DMGT. At the same time, regional newspapers are much more heavily dependent on classified advertising than most national titles, and there is some evidence that classified is migrating to the web.
According to Press Gazette, Lord Rothermere is selling the "crown jewels of the regional Press". But DMGT's real crown jewels are the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, and the effect of the sale of Northcliffe will be to strengthen those titles, which now literally represent the company's life blood. Some £300m of the hoped for £1.5bn proceeds will go towards reducing DMGT's already shrinking debt of £766m, and most of the rest will go back to shareholders, including the Rothermere family.
No doubt there is a sound commercial logic but it is sad to see a major newspaper group, which has owned regional titles since the 1920s, getting rid of so many papers. Among them are famous names such as the Leicester Mercury and the Bristol Evening Post and the Western Daily Press. Some regional papers may be in slow long-term decline, but my fear is that the new owners of Northcliffe, their eyes firmly glued to the bottom line, could hasten the process.
Bryant rings changes as 'Telegraph' jumps on the Cameron bandwagon
Some people have asked me to explain why the Daily Telegraph should have enthusiastically endorsed David Cameron in an editorial 10 days ago. Martin Newland resigned as editor a week earlier, and one of his gripes was that he had not been allowed to publish a pro-Cameron leader. This was considerably less full-throated than the one that appeared after his departure.
My explanation is that John Bryant, the editor-in-chief and now acting editor, is a known Cameron supporter. Inheriting a considerable shambles at the Daily Telegraph, he was in a strong position to have his own way, and must have easily persuaded Aidan Barclay, chairman of the Telegraph Group, that the paper could not afford not to be on the Cameron bandwagon.
However, the suggestion, made in The Guardian, that Simon Heffer, the Daily Telegraph's new associate editor, "approved every word" of the leader cannot be true. If it were, he would make the Vicar of Bray look resolute, having described Mr Cameron as "a PR spiv" in his column a few weeks previously. He has not yet publicly rescinded his position.Reuse content