We already knew that parent company Johnston Press had a dismal first half of 2015 – shares tumbled when a profit warning was issued in July – but figures released yesterday show how tough it has been for its two Leeds newspapers.
Despite yet another relaunch at the beginning of the year (aimed at placing the paper “at the heart of an upwardly-mobile 21st century city”), the Evening Post’s sales have continued to fall dramatically.
It is now only selling just over 20,000 copies day, down 16% from last year (one of the biggest percentage falls of all UK regional dailies), and is being outsold for the first time by the Sheffield Star.
The Yorkshire Post recorded a more modest fall of 10% in print sales, but a disastrous 10.6% FALL in the average number of “unique browsers” visiting its site every day – down from 28,658 to 25,615, according to online traffic stats released by ABC.
Like every other regional paper, The Yorkshire Post and The Evening Post are banking on replacing lost revenue from print with money made out of increased website traffic. But in Leeds, it doesn’t look like enough traffic is coming.
The Evening Post saw an increase of 13.6% of daily “unique browsers”, way below the national average of 32.8%, and way, way below the increases at the local papers in Manchester (up 74.8%), Newcastle (87.5%) and Liverpool (90.1%), all of which are published by Johnston Press’s rival Trinity Mirror.
The received wisdom from publishers is that local print papers will be around for some time yet, with revenue trickling away slowly enough from print for online to save the day.
But what if, as this commentator suggests, there is a kind of psychological tipping point approaching for advertisers, when they start to have second thoughts about the value of print advertising campaigns given the small number of readers?
How small is small? At the current rate of decline (30% since 2013) the Evening Post will be selling some 14,000 copies a day in two years time, and under 10,000 two years after that, in 2019. Would that be small enough?
In the meantime, there is talk of consolidation in the regional press industry, with all the major players, including Johnston Press, “publicly positioning themselves as open to (merger) deals”. A merger between JP and the Newsquest Media Group (owners of the York Press and the Bradford Telegraph) would offer some economies of scale in our region.
If that doesn’t end up happening, Johnston Press could always try turning the YEP into a free paper to rival Metro (this year’s re-launch gave it more of a Metro-style look and feel). I’m told they’ve been giving the YEP away for free in recent weeks at Leeds train station, whether as a promo tool or to test the waters is anyone’s guess.
Here are this year’s stats for print sales. Note that some 1,200 of The Yorkshire Post’s total is not paid for.
And here are the stats for web traffic. In two years, the Huddersfield Examiner has left The Yorkshire Post way behind.
And here are those local online stats in the context of the rest of the country’s local papers’ website traffic.