The right of the right


Around the Western World we are witnessing extraordinary dynamics between the four estates.

From Trump’s attacks on the media, and the judiciary, to sectors of the UK news media amplifying the lies of Brexiters, before also turning on the judiciary. To the rise of social activism, on the streets and in social media

Is this a sign of our times? Or is it a shudder in a longer-term, tutonic shift in the components of our societies?

The rise of the self-righteous right

 This chart for the UK, indexes the relative shares of left and right wing newspapers over the last thirty years, exemplified by the combined sales of the Telegraph/Mail versus the Mirror/Guardian. (I’ve ignored the others because their positions were as much about opportunism that conviction.)

Chart rise of the right  Back in Thatcher’s eighties, the left titles indexed around 20% above the right titles. Today, the titles on the right have over double the market share of those on the left. This picture is also apparent in countries such as Spain, France and Germany, where the media-right are steadily increasing their dominance.

There is something ironic about the ambiguity of the word “right”. The right is where the money is, and money, and commercial acumen, rather than principle are what has driven the increasing dominance of right-wing media.

But as always the story is more nuanced.

The chart below shows that the Mail’s commendable rise (in red) has in fact been cyclical, and diametrically opposite to the strength of Tory majority parliament (in blue).

Chart Mail v UK GovernmentThe red bendy line shows that the Mail’s share rise slowed during the Tory years, but blossomed in the Blair years. (Ignore the first and last four years, they are a function of my lazy regression modelling rather than statistical validity.) The chart clearly shows that against the general upward trend, the Mail gained more in opposition. And the same data shows, that The Guardian did far better against the Tories, (and in the Blair years, which it regarded as the same thing!)

While the Mail’s trend line is an opposite image of the Tory majority, The Guardian’s share more or less follows the Tory majority (below). The stronger the Tories, the better The Guardian performs.CHart Guardian v UK governmentThe fact is that partisan News Media attract more readers when in opposition, than when they are sympathetic.

Meanwhile in the USA, the New York Times has increased its subscription based by 10% since Trump came to power. In addition a further 10% have been added through individuals and companies sponsoring student subscriptions.

In this “post truth” age of Trump and Brexit, there is some consolation in the fact that, against a generally increasing dominance of right-wing media, the evidence suggests this can be thwarted.

But the long-term question, in this increasingly divisive, extremist (however defined) world, is how does the news media, whether established or emerging, better reflect all opinions rather than what I regard as the increasingly distorted “Enemies of the State” messaging.

Citizens welcome (I won’t say are “crying out for”) clarification and direction. But they, particularly younger people, are abandoning news media, in part – one part – because the news media are either emasculated – from the miserably managed Scotsman, to the UK’s now official state broadcaster, the BBC – or representatives of the rich and self-RIGHTeous.

 I’ve written before about the potential for the ever-increasing number of independent “New News” creators. Individually many/most struggle commercially, but collectively this is a great new force, that can challenge and replace the distortions that we are now witnessing every day.

Finally, I offer two (perhaps more subjective) observations:

In the international context, British newspapers’ print audiences have fallen far faster than most other European countries. In the case of the regionals, I put much of this down to the profiteering of their shareholders, but in the Nationals I believe it is due to our uniquely jingoistic editorial style. A sensational headline may win the day, but the reader is left with a bad taste in their mouth, and the image of the press is slightly diluted.

 The other is that media born around fads tend to fail, as the fad fades. Just as the ultra-nationalist Wings Over Scotland saw its audience soar to over that of The Scotsman during the referendum, only to disappear to insignificance, so I suspect Breitbart will last little longer that Trumps credibility. And the sooner the better.

 Jane Martinson, in The Guardian, summed up the state we newspaper folks are in.

To a Trump Free Press



Trump’s attacks on the media, and press freedom are unprecedented, however he might misspell it, and certainly un-presidential.

Trump dishonest

He and his cohorts want to censor the Press, with gagging orders on US government departments and his lackeys saying we should all “shut up”.

Trump Bannon NYT

But what if we censor him?

How about a Trump Free Press, just for one day?

Just for one day Trump and his charlatans are disappeared.

Such a campaign, well structured, could not only present Trump with a highly visible response to his narcissism, but also serve to tell the wider public that the press is reputable, representative and remains the challenger of the political and powerful.

Of course, his distorted interpretation will, in his mind, be presented as victory. But say we ignore that messaging, minimalizing coverage of his outrage to a sidebar? What if, rather than simply report his outrage, we humorously just take the piss?

Confronting Trump as a universal body, is the only way that, we, the world’s news media can confirm our credentials and value, among societies that are as disillusioned with the news media as they are with politics.

Ironically, we, the media gave Trump the oxygen, that brought him to power. Now we have a responsibility to suffocate him.

Let’s find just one day when the world diminishes him to the place he deserves. Obscurity.

BTW: In Scotland, from where Trump boasts his origins, the word trump means fart.


Steve Edwards

Steve Edwards: A great advertising man who went on to be head of a range of UK media properties, was one of the smartest, shrewdest, most popular, hilarious people in the UK media. His sense of friendship was beyond belief.

We first met when he was a classified sales manager in Cardiff, where his boss was another great character, Tony Hill. To be in the company of one of them was hilarious enough, but both? I don’t know how my lungs survived the laughter. It was around then that at a Newspaper Society Conference, Steve introduced me by saying: “At a conference like this, the only two people who can’t get a shag are Jim Chisholm and Quentin Crisp”. To be sure if Crisp had turned up, he would have been assured a good time!

But we worked most closely around the launch of Scotland on Sunday, when the boss; Roger Ridley Thomas – a role model and mentor to so many leaders in the industry today – basically delegated the project to Steve. The launch was a great commercial success; sadly, it took time for the paper itself to realise its full potential.

After that, Steve’s career rocketed, if rockily at times. If one only knew him socially, one would never conceive that he could hold the prestigious posts he did. CEO of Autotrader, where he was shafted for his honesty. United Newspapers, where he drove the biggest BMW known to man. Northcliffe, then the regional arm of DMGT, was a walk in the park, but it was here that he encountered Primary Times, a parenting magazine. He realised this was a great opportunity. When he acquired the company the product was a sloppy mess of 14 local editions. Today it has 59 editions, is one of the top ten most read magazines in the UK, and the largest distribution free magazine in Europe.

What was most amazing about him, was how it all seemed so effortless. I joked with Marion, his assistant, who is taking over the running of the company, about how Steve never seemed to do any work, to which she replied, “That’s because he didn’t do any work. He just knows lots of people who do.” The gift of a great manager.

OK, he could be a right grumpy shitebag, but somehow his faux tantrums made him all the more adorable. I can’t think of many projects I enjoyed more than Scotland on Sunday. But it wasn’t simply the exhilaration of a launch. Much of the fun was thanks to Steve. I loved working with him. It was certainly never dull!

This gruffness made him an “acquired taste”, but the man inside was one of the kindest one could meet.

Early in my consulting career – c 1992 – Steve called me to say that he’d been scheduled to speak at an international event in Paris, but couldn’t make it. As is customary, he proposed an alternative – Me. At that time, I was focusing on the News Corp price wars. It turned out to be the launchpad for my international career. Through Steve I met the wonderful Patrice Schneider, the sadly late Deirdre O’Callaghan and the CEO of the World Association of Newspapers, Timothy Balding. Steve kick-started my international career, that over twenty odd years has taken me to over 50 countries. He helped so many people to succeed, never seeking any credit.

In recent years, my own health has not been good, physically or mentally, largely due to self-inflicted injuries. No-one, outside family, has been more supportive than Steve. He would phone regularly and typically have me in fits of laughter. When he phoned to tell me about his initial stomach problems, his description of being helped off the golf course, and ending up with a consultant, seriously ill, was hilarious. And, as was the case with so many of his great descriptions – all with accents and personalities that no normal person would meet – his material was unrepeatable. I’ve no idea how often I’ve thought, I must steal that gag, only to find it impossible to replicate.

Then 21 months ago, I got a call.

With Steve’s usual acerbic warmth, it ran roughly as follows: “You. You bastard. You’ve drunk yourself into the ground, been hospitalised, screwed up your body. And I’m the one whose got Liver Cancer! I’ve discovered I have a dark sense of tumour.”

One of his funniest lines, at one of his worst possible moments. Typically, brilliantly hilarious. And, of course a diversional tactic. Life’s lessons confirm that humour is a great antidote.

From then on, it was only a matter of time, and we would joke about which of us would go first. All I can say is that by comparison, his passing is so undeserved. A lovely, talented curmudgeon, with so much energy and ‘joie de vivre’…… stolen from us.

Not many people knew that Steve started out as an English and Drama teacher. His work and social lives played on his theatre and intricate vocabulary; full of characters, relationships – good and bad – and observation. At work, he was unnervingly shrewd. At play, every dialogue/monologue was his stage. But there was never a sub-plot. Steve was as transparent and honest as it gets, particularly for someone in the media business.

We spoke twice in the week before he passed away.

On the Wednesday, I called him to ask how things were doing. All sounded much as usual. The sense of tumour was no bigger or smaller. The sense of humour, razor sharp. On the Friday afternoon, my phone rang and it was Steve: His final words to me were roughly: “Oh, Jim! I meant to call someone else. Sorry mate. I’m busy. Fuck Off!”

I loved that hilarious, rumbustious, non PC, intuitively-brilliant, cantankerous, over-generous, theatrical, Welsh tosspot to bits, and his passing is one of the saddest things I’ve ever known.

Wolves, wimps…. or frogs

Hey, News Media. Are we wolves, wimps…. Or frogs?

It is the digital intermediaries who are destroying the news industry, not any reluctance by advertisers, or disinterest of readers. If, as media-owners, we don’t have the guts to take these guys on regarding our revenues, then perhaps our story – and future  lies in campaigning for the wider impact on society.

From Watergate, to the Panama papers, our medium has shown the ability, brains, power and guts to topple governments, and change the world.

So why have we let a bunch of up-starts, some barely out of university, reduce us to a point of extinction?

It’s simple. We’re frogs.

Back around 1985, we found ourselves in a pot of cold water, into which a new generation of interlopers arrived, auto-magazines, property guides. We half-heartedly took them on, after all we were the news. They were just an irritation.

By the mid ’90’s we saw the internet as our own. We were the content. We were the news. The waters were warming. We remained oblivious.

One way or another we’re about to be yesterday’s news. And it’s not because those selfish readers suddenly won’t pay for content. They never really did. Do Sky, Fox or CNN survive on content revenue? Would BBC licence payers, pay only for a news service.

Readers paid for a package of content. And they paid for the cost of materials and distribution, which accounted for most of the cover price revenue. Then suddenly a whole new generation of willing digital news suppliers and distributors turned up who we – OK perhaps grudgingly – welcomed with open arms.

Ad Trading. Just who is the sucker here?

The word “antidisintermediation”, first crossed my screen back in 1998, The deliberations at the time boiled down to: “What the hell does that mean?”

Well, whatever it was, we sure didn’t respond well, and as usual things didn’t quite work out as expected. Back then we media owners were scared of being disintermediated, and that advertisers and consumers would soon be arm in arm, happily coexisting without us.

18 years on, things are far worse than that.

Instead of three in the bed and one falling out, there is now a dysfunctional bacchanalia of desperate swingers, all seeking their own gratification. What was once our party has been overwhelmed by a whole new generation of rampant gate-crashers, as this well-worn graphic from Luma illustrates.


By my reckoning, by the time the advertisers’ pound arrives at the media house, only 27 pence XX is delivered in terms of ad effectiveness. And my sums are being generous.

This pitiful frog still doesn’t realise it must jump out the pot. Extinction awaits.

Let’s be clear about what is going on here………

If you do one thing today, other than drag your way through my rant below, find a minute to read a Linked-In post from Marcus Brook of Redfox Media,  a thought leader in understanding the relationships between businesses and customers, and the man who I genuinely believe has the solution to the news-media’s digital woes.

With a salute to Michael Porter’s Five Forces arena of market competition, let’s start by identifying the all the players who now congregate what used to be the simple value chain between an advertiser, the media, and the consumer.

First off the traditional media planner/buyers Their 15% commission (originally paid according to the strange notion that agencies were rewarded for bringing revenue to the publishers), are an established, if arbitrary wheel oiler, most of which is now rebated to the advertisers; a discount. Media buyers are transparently pressured to demonstrate the best ROI for their clients. We can all live with that.

The there is the myriad of new media entrants, from Google, Facebook, Twitter through the panorama of other tiny to humongous players. Like all successful businesses, their strategies and products have evolved over time, as market opportunities have opened.

Beyond this group, another generation of ad-servers, programmatic systems, content integrators, disseminators, and data guzzlers are land-grabbing for power and money. For exorbitant shares of revenue, they add little to Porter’s arena, while diluting the value chain where the medium bonds the seller to the buyer.

  1. The ad-servers such as Double Click (Now a subsidiary of Google/Alphabet) are distorting the triangular relationship between advertisers, the media and consumers. Worldwide they have sucked the value out of both an advertisers’ effective/efficient delivery of their message, and the publishers’ ability to make a fair return for the access they offer to potential customers, be it quantitative or qualitative.

Meanwhile programmatic algorithms probably dilute an advertising message’s effectiveness by at least half [Data to follow].

According to SmartInsights: “Across all ad formats and placements [The Ad Click Thro Rate] is 0.17% So, this is less than 2 clicks per 1000 impressions showing the difficulty of driving response from online ads”….. Never mind the notion that publishers get paid a paltry proportion of rate per click.

  1. Next up Ad-blocking. According to Pagefair during 2016 Ad-Blockers – a bunch of low tier coders, with a grudge – will suck out nearly a quarter of US digital ad revenue, and an eye-watering $41 billion of the $200 Billion global digital ad economy.

How about this conciliatory quote from CNBC: Ad blocking software makers such as Shina have been on the offensive and in February, the Israeli company’s chief marketing officer called its solution a “nuclear weapon” threatening the industry.” By that he means the news industry.

OK, a part solution is approaching, with more and more traffic being peer to peer, via mobile apps. This is well explained in Marcus Brook’s LinkedIn post.

“Ad Blockers only work in browsers. Only 11% of content consumed on a mobile device uses a browser, 89% is served in an app. Apps don’t support cookies, so the 3rd party ad tec, that is no longer in the publisher’s interest, doesn’t work in app.

Apps, stop ad blockers, don’t work with cookies and, with the explosion of mobile, deliver the majority of audience. Publishers build the app, publishers control the app, publishers are back in control.”

Apple  – along with other operating systems are now introducing ad-blocking software on devices so, on the one hand they’re taking revenue share for our content via the app store, and on the other depriving us of ad revenue.

Yet over-time we have all become so desperate for short-term gains in audience or revenue, that we’ve turned to anyone who promises us more jam today.

  1. The curators/aggregators. So it was no surprise that almost in unison Facebook were offering publishers “Facebook Instants” as THE news solution while Twitter created the “Twitter Moments” and “Apple News” Google responded with their “Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)” project. All of these promoted as “tools for publishers”, but in reality are tools for suckers.

Two weeks ago among the mails I received, were three – completely unrelated, on completely different matters – from CEO’s of publishers in three different countries. Each of them alluded to the challenge of Facebook, and the effect it was having on revenue. Duh! When was this not going to happen?

A week ago Facebook introduced an algorithm that blocks the blockers. Nice.

You can find a good analysis of it all here:

  1. Customer data. Then there is the not insignificant battle about who owns the customer data. The advertiser? The media house? Or one of the myriad servers or walled-garden players – Apple, Google, Facebook….

As Marcus describes it: “Ad serving is done by 3rd party tec in almost every web site on the planet. All of the data the 3rd party tec harvests is based on cookies. Cookies can only be served in a browser. This tec harvests subscriber data to determine the audience profile of the site. So the third party tec owns the knowledge on the relevance of the audience to an advertiser. This arbitrage is not in the publisher’s interest. Publishers need a solution that puts them back in control of the advertising that is served to their audience.”

In all the fog of this continually evolving, ever fluid phenomenon that is digital, one thing is paramount. He who owns the customer is king.

Yup! Once content was king, but sorry fellow citizens, he’s been deposed; by an unwelcome invader from an alien world…. and we need it back!

Customer knowledge, is a fundamental aspect of restoring the advertiser-media-consumer value chain, and regaining this control is essential if we are going to return to competing on the quality of our content.

As Marcus points out, most people download their app, whether free or paid-for, from an app store. And who own the app-stores? Once again knowledge, control, and value are sucked from the process.

So here is the math VERY DRAFT FORM:


As I say above, around a quarter of an advertiser’s investment ends up in effective delivery.

Rather than disintermediation pushing us out of the bed, a whole new generation of value and knowledge suckers have intervened to not only screw the media-owners, but the advertisers as well. News media are Tarantino’s gimp in a Sartresque nightmare.

The long awaited mobile revolution is certainly growing the news audience, but this will only result in real revenue benefits if publishers and advertisers work aggressively, in concert, stop all this crap, even if it means taking a hit in the short-term.

To-date, there has been little real action other than endless numbers of conference sessions, committees, discussion forums, lamenting the unfairness of it all…..  boo hoo sucks….., while cautioning against standing up to the bully-boys.

It reminds me of JK Galbraith’s brilliant description of how leaders responded to the economic crisis of 1929:

“To suppose that President Hoover was engaged only in organizing further reassurance is to do him a serious injustice. He was also conducting one of the oldest, most important – and least understood – rites in American life. This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business. It is a rite which is still much practised in our time.”

Just as the banks failed in 1929 and 2007, so the ad-trading process is now threatening the equilibrium of the advertising econometrics, with a consequential impact on advertising’s role in the economic multiplier. No amount of prognostication is going to avoid the fact that too much of the digital economy is in the hands of too few, all at the expense of the news industry.

So what needs to be done?

Forget paywalls. They are a consequence not a solution.

One thing that ain’t going to guarantee survival is the pay-wall.

When The London Times introduced its own system back in 2010, I argued that ultimately it would fail. Notably News UK, subsequently introduced and then dropped their daft paywall on The Sun and CEO, David Dinsmore hasn’t discounted the idea of abandoning it on The Times.

Facts: While the Telegraph and Guardian’s digital services more than double their print readership – The Times manages max 6%.

Most significantly, while ratio between the Times daily to monthly print audience is line with its competitors, its digital audience falls way behind. In other words. The pay wall has cut its audience to around 2% of that of it’s competitors, with no demonstrable impact on audience loyalty.

The figures below are enough to demonstrate that the News UK model is unstainable:

It’s only a matter of maths and time. I argued that as digital audiences grew in breadth and depth so advertising revenues would grow with them. That this hasn’t happened is not because of advertiser’s reluctance to adopt digital communication, nor indeed place advertising on news media sites. The problem for advertisers and publishers alike is that the ROI value-chain has been screwed.

To anyone who says The Times is better off with a pay wall that delivers 5% of the monthly audience or 4% of the daily audience of the Telegraph, I say your maths is bolox, and if it’s not, sorry Rupert, are you really saying that it’s more important to restrict your editorial influence to a fraction of what it could be, because your sales folks won’t stand up to the value suckers. Come on!!

This has to stop. Not after the next conference, or learned paper. Now

The first step is for the news and advertising industries to collaboratively develop a new set of competitive trading protocols, with the following objectives:

  • Protect the customer data, that should be the preserve of the media owners and advertisers
  • Enable direct control of advertising planning and scheduling
  • Contain suitable coding so that advertising and content cannot be differentiated
  • Provide a transparent system, which minimises the cost of facilitation between the advertiser/media-buyer and media owner.
  • Ensure that the system is competitive between all players

The last time I suggested industry collaboration – ten plus years ago – to create a single point, digital news-stand, within which all publishers would compete, I was told that even discussing such monopolistic skulduggery was “Illegal”. Well, let’s get real here. We need rough-tough collaboration, and the likes of Google, Facebook et al, are in position to cry foul.

As Bloomberg reported: In the USA, Google and Facebook account for 64% of all internet advertising, “while smaller companies lost market share”. The quote continued: “Smaller companies will continue to operate in the shadows of the industry’s two dominant players”

In the past, governments were hell bent on stopping news media companies from expanding in the name of monopolistic practice.

Yet now we have two or three US based companies distorting the global advertising economy, and reducing the contribution advertising makes to the economic multiplier. We have Microsoft’s Windows’s dominating the world’s operating systems, with Google’s Android and Apple monopolising the mobile world. These three US companies, now control not only the world’s operating systems, but also the world’s financial system, commercial collection and ownership of customer data, the transacting of advertising, and the dissemination of news. Just imagine what one Donald Trump would do with that lot if he could.

Let’s not blame messrs Gates, Bryn, Page and Zuckerberg. Like Rupert Murdoch, who is continually criticised by his competitors for dominating the markets he serves, they are only where they are because governments choose to let them.

Airbus was created to stop the domination of Boeing. Bell Corp and ITT were broken up.

In Europe we have to recognise that three or four US corporations are no longer simply sucking out the value chain of advertising, but are threatening far wider areas of society. Not that in the US, their role is any less distorting.

News is on the brink of extinction. But the story is now far bigger than that. 17Perhaps a more noble cause is just what we need to get our act together.

If we news folks are capable of toppling governments, sending rogue businessmen to jail, making or breaking celebrities, surely we can stop this relentless domination – that is destroying our industry while affecting many other sectors of society.

Or are we just too scared?



A master class in media mismanagement

Johnston Press – A masterclass in media mismanagement

This post was written before the UK referendum last week. Since that time UK news media stocks have fallen by around 15%, more or less in line with the FTSE 250 Index. Shares in Johnston Press have fallen by 45%; three times that level. Read on….

Recently the share price of Johnston Press [JP] slid below 30 pence, a fifth of what it was a year ago and an all-time low[i]. While their struggles are not unique among legacy news-media, how they got where they are, and their approach to recovery is a masterclass in strategic failure and mismanagement.

  • Since 1988, JP determinedly bought declining businesses, milking them in order acquire more decline, with no clear strategy, other than “that local papers can beat off the challenge of the web[ii].
  • As they stripped their acquisitions of the expertise and intellect that could have defined a road to recovery, they were lauded by the City for realising operating profits in excess of 30%, as their acquired properties, deprived of funding for growth, sank into the sand.
  • More recently, while a new generation of JP leadership have addressed the liabilities of their “milk-decline” policy their digital strategy is failing – in product, in audience, and in revenue.
  • As a consequence, JP have a workforce, who are disillusioned, demoralised and with little confidence in their leadership (See below).

JP’s Circulations are worst of breed. Daily circulation declines are among the worst in the UK[iii] ,almost double the industry average[iv]. According to “Hold The Front Page”[v], the bottom five regional dailies were all JP.

Compared with other regional publishers – Newsquest and what was Local World (I don’t have Trinity Mirror [TM] figures because their comScore data is regional and national) – JP’s digital engagement is very low. According to comScore, the JP’s engagement index[vi] is a third of Newsquest’s, and far less than Local World’s[vii].

Revenue benchmarks

In 2015, while JP’s digital advertising revenues grew by 12.4%, TM’s grew by 32%[viii]. Their comparative revenue performance is summarised in exhibit 1 below.

Exhibit 1. Comparison of publishing revenues sources and variances – 2015-2014[ix]
Trinity Mirror Johnston Press
£ Var (M) % Var £ Var (M) % Var
Print -36 -7% -21 -10%
Digital 11 24% 3 13%
Digital % print 32% 16%

Any future depends on the relative level of digital growth to print decline, shown in bold above. TM’s digital growth is now 32% of its print decline, whereas JP’s is only half that.

Elsewhere in TM’s P&L, over half their lost revenue was due to strategically-irrelevant contract printing[x].

What do these trends say about the future?

In summary JP’s variances in print decline and digital growth have both been roughly half of those of TM for several years.

It has to be assumed that the rate of print revenues will decline at an ever increasing rate[xi], and that despite the rejuvenation caused by mobile and video, even with technical changes in ad trading, digital growth will gradually slow.

Put all this together and the relative forecasts for JP and TM look like those shown in the charts below (Assumptions are in the endnotes[xii]).

Impact on valuation

So it’s little wonder then that the year-on-year decline in JP’s share price has been over three times that of Trinity Mirror, or indeed any other comparable stock. Of the five stocks measured:

  • Gannett (NYSE – UK Subsidiary Newsquest) is 10% up.
  • TM, DMGT, and Independent News and Media are showing year on year declines of around 20%.
  • JP are showing a decline in share price of nearly 80%

This is not just a reflection of market performance, but also of management performance.

Trinity Mirror have sufficient legacy control and innovation to flourish beyond their point of inflection[xiii]. Their share price does not reflect their good work, the analysts ratings reflect this. In contrast,  I reckon JP will rapidly be unable to pay their wages never mind their other liabilities.

Exhibit 2. Comparison of revenue forecasts between Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror

JP v TM Forecast

Exhibit 3. Google indexed of peer share prices (pre Brexit)[xiv]

JP Share tracks

TNI: Trinity Mirrror, GCI: Gannett, JPR: Johnston Press, INM: Independent News and Media DMGT: Daily Mail General Trust


In the city, regular, reliable communication is everything. JP certainly can’t be questioned on regularity. A search of leading trade journals, and quality press, shows that, relative to his three peers at TM, Newsquest and Archant, JP CEO, Ashley Highfield has enjoyed 64% of all the coverage[xv]. One of Ashley’s managers at a previous employer reminded me: “He can be keen on Ashley but he is actually a good guy and likes being in charge.”

Though Ashley’s enthusiasm for “being noticed” is renowned, the quality and veracity of his communication, must be questioned.

In an interview in July 2014, when JP was valued at £200 Million, Ashley told the respected financial journalist Ray Snoddy: “The thing to concentrate on is not the share price but the market capitalisation. I would hope to get it to more than £300 million quite quickly. [xvi]

By late October 2014, when Zenith were predicting a further 5% decline in regional media advertising and WPP -10%, Ashley told the Telegraph[xvii]:

“We’re increasingly confident in saying the worst is over for the regional press. We might not be completely out of the woods but the growth in digital audiences, and in fact the performance of print, tells us we’ll get there.”

Then in April, 2015, with the share price now worth less than 60% of the “£300 million quite quickly” assertion, Ashley received a remuneration package of £1.65 Million[xviii].

By July 2015, a year after Ashley predicted his “get-to-300-quite-quickly” position, JP’s market cap had halved.

At that time Ray Snoddy mailed me: “Johnston has successfully refinanced its debt and as a result reduced its interest charges, but so far as getting any top-line growth it remains a case of jam tomorrow. Patience in the City may be starting to run out[xix].”

Most CEOs, having presided over a 50% decline in company value, in a year, having predicted a 50% increase “quite-quickly”, might be expected to focus 100% on their business and its stakeholders.

But Ashley had other priorities in July 2015. The first was to accept a role as one of the eight advisors who would influence the BBC Charter Review.  Then in October he assumed the role of Chairman of the UK industry’s trade body, the News Media Association. This coincided with the Motley Fool reporting “johnston-press-plc-plunges-over-15%-on-profit-warning”[xx].

His response was initially: “Trading conditions [are] challenging, especially in the period around the general election”. And then: “The biggest risk for publishers is that advertisers change habits. [xxi] Both comments are illuminating, in their own way.

Then mid-November, Ashley unveiled “The UK’s First Local Native Advertising Proposition[xxii].

Within two days the shares had fallen 25%.

The strategy

From a boast that Ashley Highfield would increase the company’s value, by half, to £300 Million “quite soon”, the reality is that today it is worth less than a tenth of that assertion.

One question that preoccupies us mere observers is why a man, whose “autobiographical”, “subjective” Wikipedia[xxiii] entry states that he was awarded the Digital Innovator Award” by The Sunday Times, and named the “most influential individual in technology” by, Silicon.Com, is now heading a media business which seems to be underperforming against any peer benchmark, and in particular one with particularly low digital credentials.

Exhibit 4. Ashley Highfield’s Wikipedia entry

JP AH Wiki.png

Having built a reputation as a “digital guru”[xxiv], Ashley’s JP regional websites can only be described as woeful. Not only is their advertising so intrusive, that it makes the content unreadable, but the centralised templating is un-navigable. Little wonder JP sites’ pages-read and reading-time are far below the industry norm[xxv].

Here is an example from the Edinburgh Evening News – First the your first view of the home page.

Exhibit 5a Edinburgh Evening News Home Page  (Opening screen)

JP EN Homepage 1

And here the final, fifth scroll of the home page.

Exhibit 5b. Edinburgh Evening News Home Page -final scroll

JP EN Homepage 5 JPEG

I challenge any visitor to navigate this cognitive assault, never mind find a story, or – golly gosh – click on an ad (where-ever they are above).

Meanwhile: “… the transformational acquisition for Johnston Press and an important step towards delivering our long-term strategyled to the the launch of the iNews website[xxvi]. This turns out to be no more than a WordPress platform, with little, if anything to differentiate it from a far superior battlefield of old and new competitors.

Just have a look at the home page:  rendered at 100%. One picture, and two advertisements (today, one of them headlines: “TV advertising has never been easier” – you couldn’t make it up!)

Ashley’s latest “plan” is to integrate the “i” with The Scotsman and JP’s other regional “Uber titles[xxvii]: Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post, Edinburgh Evening News, Portsmouth News, Lancashire Evening Post, Sheffield Star and Belfast NewsLetter.

While much has been made of “I” editorial staff moving across to JP and allegedly 30 new recruits, nothing has been said about resources required in advertising sales.

I was instrumental in setting up a national sales house for TRN. I’ve advised a range of major publishers, across the world, with national and local news properties, on the complexities of packing a range of disparate titles.

Personally, I believe that far from being “transformational”, the evident strategy for integrating the ”I”, with the rest of JP’s portfolio hasn’t a fart’s chance in a thunderstorm. A quick look at the comments around the “I” announcement in Hold the Front Page[xxviii], suggests I am not alone.


It was the American comedian, Fred Allen who once quipped: “To a newspaper man, a human being is an item with skin wrapped around it”.

At JP, where a journalist is simply an expendable commodity, it is not surprising that staff morale is the lowest in the industry.

With editorial staffing having halved in the last ten years, with other staffing areas reduced by two-thirds, little wonder staff are struggling to get out a decent product.

Exhibit 6. Staff numbers 2005-2015[xxix]
2005 2015
Editorial and photographic 2122 974
Sales and distribution 3412 1359
Production 1621 288
Administration 779 219

As part of BBC Charter Renewal Process[xxx], in which Ashley is a key player, a plan has been agreed that the BBC will pay £8 million to the regional publishing groups, in order to fund 150 journalists “in an attempt to fill the local democracy gap in the UK”[xxxi].

One proposal is that the resulting resources are put in the hands of the Press Association, who would then provide this to member publishers.

Given that the project’s leading protagonist presides over a company whose 20% profit has largely been retained by halving its staff, I find it hard to believe that headcounts are suddenly going to rise.

But while staff reductions have significantly reduced costs, at the expense of operational capability, flexibility and skill, the company has, to a large extent, survived through a string of life-saving, if strategically questionable, financial conjuring tricks.

This brings into light the role and influence of Chairman Ian Russell, an accountant, whose previous roles, as Chief Executive of Scottish Power[xxxii] and Chairman of disabled employer, Remploy, were, to say the least, controversial[xxxiii].

Most recently, and largely unreported, JP’s most recent financial report shows that the staff pension deficit has been reduced from £90Million to £27Million, by utilising a “controversial” actuarial re-evaluation of risk. To quote pensions expert, Alan Collins, “The liability is still exactly the same, in the sense of it will depend on how long the members actually live rather than what assumption you make about it.[xxxiv]

All this goes back to Ray Snoddy’s comments about jam tomorrow. Ian Russell, and finance director David King (who is credited with having turned around the Time Out Group[xxxv]) have tackled the legacy of debt they inherited. But the cash released into the balance sheet has been used to acquire the “I”, rather than address the company’s core strategic and managerial issues.

JP remains a strategy free zone, enjoying little confidence among readers, advertisers, shareholders and, critically employees.

Staff attitudes

Alongside all the symptoms of a failing business and the evidence of misguided communication, one vital test is of the attitudes of the staff. For this I turned to Glassdoor[xxxvi]. Below is a summary of the headline data for the four leading regional groups:

Exhibit 7. Glassdoor benchmarks of staff attitudes

to a friend

CEO Approval Positive Business Outlook
Trinity Mirror 81% 96% 71%
Archant 77% 87% 62%
Newsquest 17% 72% 12%
Johnston 27% 40% 12%

This beggars two questions:

  • For which company would you want to work?
  • In which company would you want to invest or disinvest

Perhaps the biggest clue as to the company’s woes lies in another of Ashley’s statements: “Morale has suffered…. Journalists understand what the company is up against”[xxxvii]

You need look no further than a comparison of Glassdoor’s comparisons between JP and TM, to understand “what the company is up against” :

Exhibit 5: Summary charts of staff attitudes at TM JP

JP v TM staff attitude

Glimmer of hope

There is however one great asset in JP. A white knight, hidden within the JP board.

Kjell Aamot[xxxviii], is a non-executive director of JP. He is an iconic legend among leaders in the global newspaper industry, having been the man who engineered the extra-ordinary, Norwegian/now-global media company Schibsted. His credentials are outstanding:

He is an ex-Finance Director, so is well equipped to understand the complexities of JP’s financial challenges

He persuaded a family trust to go to the market, to raise funds to expand and diversify. He knows why Schibsted succeeded in creating a global business, while Johnston chose to milk on sand.

His strategy to protect classified revenues has not only served the company well in Scandanavia, but has been migrated to markets worldwide.

Kjell is a digital visionary who argued that his company must move to digital first, long before anyone else had land-grabbed the expression.

He is inspiring. His staff loved him. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the way he deals with people.

And he has trust. I’d invest in him tomorrow. As would any number of senior players who understand media.

If I were a leading shareholder in JP, I’d invite Kjell out for lunch, and simply ask: “What the hell do we do now?”


Footnotes and references.

[i]  This takes into account the share price adjustments following their financial restructure Yahoo Finances:

[ii] Ray Snoddy extra-ordinary interview Tim Bowdler,2006.

[iii] World Press Trends WAN/IFRA

[iv] Source: ABC. Jul-Dec 2015


[vi] Engagement Index is defined as the frequency of visits x pages visited x time per page.

[vii] Source comScore MMX. I don’t have Trinity Mirror Regionals data because comScore’s are a mix of regional and national

[viii] Company reports:

[ix] Source: 2015 Company reports

[x] Trinity Mirror Annual Report


[xii]  Forecast assumptions for both TM and JP: are that for print rate of decline by the current percentage worsening by 0.5% a year. Digital growth rates will continue at current levels slowing by 1% a year.

[xiii] Point of inflection: The point where digital revenue growth/profitability (Net  contribution) is great than the losses in print/analogue.


[xv] Google Analysis of Hold The Front Page, Press Gazette and JournalimUK.

[xvi] 14 July 2014

[xvii] ZO, Group M, Telegraph article.

[xviii] 27 April,2015,


[xx][xx] 14 July

[xxi] The Guardian 14 July 2015


[xxiii]  Note that the entry warns: “This article has multiple issues…. This article is an autobiography or has been extensively edited by the subject or by someone connected to the subject.  This article contains wording that promotes the subject in a subjective manner without imparting real information.


[xxv] comScore MMX


[xxvii] Source HTFP:

[xxviii][xxviii] Hold The Front Page:

[xxix][xxix][xxix]  JP Company Report


[xxxi] 11 May, 2016

[xxxii] Ian Russell’s appointment.


[xxxiv] Alan Collins, Spence and Partners 4 April, 2016


[xxxvi] Glassdoor is an online recruitment service that holds over 8 million staff reviews of the companies that the work(ed) for.

[xxxvii] 3 November 2014,

[xxxviii] Kjell Aamot,


The BBC / local press alliance is wrong

Why the BBC/Local Press Deal is Bad News

Am I alone in feeling that this BBC deal with the UK’s local publishers to share news resources just ain’t right?

The story so far:

The BBC, the UK’s state-funded, public service broadcaster [PSB] is being “encouraged” to joining forces with the local newspapers, where, to quote George Osborne (The UK’s Finance Secretary): “We’re engaged now in negotiations with the BBC to see how we can use the licence fee to support local, independent news-gathering.”

In this agreement the BBC will pay £14 million to the regional publishing groups, in order to fund  364 journalists to cover council and court meetings . This equates to £38.5k for more or less one reporter for each of the UK’s defined council areas. And for a “provision by the regional press to the BBC of a comprehensive reporting service primarily covering local authorities”.

According to the lead negotiator for the regional press, the deal will also include:

  • a video bank that would make BBC regional content available to local media partners free of charge
  • a shared data journalism unit; and
  • an agreement on better linking to local media content on BBC news sites and attribution to content originated in the local media.

After forty years, my love of newspapers has not diminished. In the last twenty years, I’ve witnessed the sad decline of print sales across the Western World, confounded by, yet in the midst of, our industry’s inability to exploit the digital revolution[i]. And I’m an avid fan of BBC news, if less supportive of some of its… er…. more populist fluff.

To me, this proposed deal is a mix of misplaced agendas.

First off, is the anti-competitive hypocrisy. OK so the government is now softening its position on local publishers acquiring each other because of the need for competing voices. But suddenly it seems it is OK for the UK’s biggest supplier of news to join forces with all these regional publishers a sort of “one story fits all”. So much for plurality!

And let’s not forget that the once regional commercial TV network, now ITV, is three times the size of the regional press, and Google is eight times the size. Where does this deal help regional publishers compete in the advertising space, from where their gross-margins are largely derived?

As far back as 1926, politicians of all parties, in government or opposition have criticized the BBC’s impartiality. This current intervention, perhaps the greatest since nationalisation in 1927, and its determination to constrain the BBC is as much about dogma as it is about paranoia.

Osborne’s suggestion of using “the licence fee to support local, independent news-gathering”, is not so much about rescuing an endangered species as it is about emasculating the BBC.  I’m not sure the licence fee payer would like it, if they understood it.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the licence fee subsidising the“beleaguered” local publishers is that their crisis does not seem to inhibit them from sucking out 20 pence in the pound in profits; double the norm across Europe where historically publishers have been far less avaricious.

On this basis George Osborne’s recent proposal to provide regional publishers with £1,500 of “business rate relief….. per office…… to help it adapt to the digital age” is chicken feed. Unless of course every Evening Standard vending box is considered an office.

Is this a different “digital age” from the one that has existed for the last twenty years? Or perhaps Osborne is reminded of once communications minister Ed Vaisey’s comment that  “a page in a local newspaper is worth much more still than a Facebook campaign. Better a supine press in the pocket than a BBC beyond control.

And let’s believe that this has got nothing to do with the UK plummeting from 20th to 38th on the World Press Freedom Index since 2009.

Contrary to a range of misplaced assertions, there is not a shred of evidence that the BBC has harmed the regional press. There are a string of reasons why British newspapers have suffered more than most other European markets, but the BBC certainly ain’t one of them.

Within the consistent story of the demise of the newspaper industry, there are distinct differences between the different players in the UK. These include market performance, strategy, and culture.

In various files in my archives, going back over twenty years there are many examples of a clear correlation between higher profit levels and greater circulation decline.

There is an irony in this particular debacle, that the loudest voices supporting this dubious alliance are from those industry leaders who are residing over the worst performing companies in terms of circulation[ii], digital engagement[iii] and culture[iv]. Needless to say, the only area in which they benchmark well is profitability.

Just because the traditional press are struggling does not mean that the “local media” is in a bad place. On the contrary, among what we traditionalists might call a “cottage industry”, is a thriving print and digital, social, viable media scene. It is estimated that there are around 30,000 community or neighbourhood print and digital services in the UK. In Edinburgh alone, I can list over thirty titles, the most noteworthy of which is the Broughton Spurtle[v].

Take a look at or competing in the same Then there are multi-location players such and even global news businesses such as

I ask, will these thousands of innovative and ambitious entrants, each trying to help local democracy flourish, be disadvantaged by some incoherent pact between a world-class PSB and a group of overtly avaricious corporate bodies, who at a local level would do everything they could to suffocate this new wave of community champions? If they knew how.

Take a look at URBS London[vi]. A start up by two seasoned regional press executives. Not only are they breaking stories in their own right, but their stories are being captured by the big media brands. Meanwhile URBS are also working with the London Government on knowledge dissemination, interpretation and debate. The chances of any BBC data journalism project (and their Data Journalism stuff is very good) being translated into a coherent local story is a fart’s chance in a thunderstorm. Not only is URBS expanding in the UK, but being adopted in other markets, notably Canada.

I find it hard to believe that the protagonists of this PSB/local press caper will in anyway use it to build resources, or develop more creative news gathering or presentation.

It will simply enable further cost cutting elsewhere. The BBC, and those who purport to protect the interests of the licence-payer would be far better off furthering the BBC’s world-class news service, by incubating news start-ups, such as the emerging alliance of independent journalists and the new breed of data journalism providers

These guys will provide a far better return, financially, innovation and social responsibility. Much as I love the local newspaper industry to bits, it has, to a large extent, brought problems upon itself.

I cannot help but believe that this whole strategy-free-zone is a conspiracy between one or more local publishers who are happy to milk the business to its demise, exploiting a government hell-bent on emasculating the BBC, probably the world’s finest news media institution.


[i] In 1993, I co-wrote, with the late Deirdre O’Callaghan, “Electronic Publishing” for the then World Association of newspapers.


[iii] comScore MMX

[iv] Glassdoor

[v] For the Sassenachs and other foreigners among you a spurtle is “a flat, wooden, spatula-like utensil spoon” dating from the fifteenth century, used for stirring porridge.

[vi] For the record, I am currently working with URBS on a new project.

So The Circulation Tsunami Begins

So it’s goodbye to the printed version of The Independent. It doesn’t feel like it’s half my life ago, that it was launched. I remember excitedly buying the first issue; pictured here with the last one.

Indy first and last

I wrote recently, that The Independent’s plight is a symptom of what will soon become a circulation Tsunami of print closures. So it was no surprise when the iconic El Pais announced it too will be dropping its print edition. But at least El Pais has a market-leadiing digital audience, which The Independent hasn’t.

Indy Alexa

This chart highlights how fickle a cross-analogue/digital brand is in the digital world. You only need to review how many digital only entities choose to utilise legacy media to build or sustain their brand values – Microsoft on TV, Google in The Guardian, the nauseous comparative sites with TV ads that insult a viewers intelligence.

And here is the lesson from the Independent.

While it enjoyed extraordinarily high brand values during its life – we all remember “It is. Are you?” – It never managed to overcome the ruthless, well-funded UK news industry. And in the digital space, they will struggle to establish scale and a point of uniqueness, even with Lebedev’s commitment.

The Guardian is enjoying stellar growth in the wider anglophone world, thanks to some extra-ordinary journalism, and perhaps the most sustainable trust-based business model. Meanwhile the Mail is reliant on a cerebrally vacant obsession with the celebrity of non-people with content priorities very different from its print parent.

HuffPo and Buzzfeed have established themselves as mainstream players, enjoying essential appearance on news reviews on TV and radio. But the same Alexa data shows that their world rankings are also falling.




HuffBuzz combined

So my question is as much about how the concept of “News” is evolving in the modern world, as it is about the relative jockeying and success of the traditional and emerging players.

These are critical times. We have the maniac Trump dominating the US political debate (BTW in Scotland and the north of England,the  word trump is a fart). There is increasing social polarisation crisscrossing Europe with parallel political disparity. To say nothing about global extremism.

But somehow News, as we define it, is losing traction. Nowhere more so than here in Scotland, where half of Scots want independence from the UK, but within Europe, while the majority of English people want independence from Europe, but for Scotland to remain in the UK. Meanwhile the scale and quality of debate within the media in Scotland is woeful. The situation in the UK, and Scotland is reflected across the European landscape.

Again, as I’ve reported before, the excitement surrounding last year’s Referendum campaign here, had virtually no impact on newspaper readership levels.

As a lover of print, going back forty years to the days of hot-metal, mono-type production, I regret the demise of print, but as a greater lover of the power of free expression, I am convinced that the past is the past (“and in the past it must remain”) and we are some way from a new News media capable of addressing and challenging the social and political issues that we are all facing.

Another case of “Where The Independent goes…. Others follow”?

It’s been a long time coming, regularly inaccurately predicted, but now the end of the mass-market printed newspaper is in sight.

The Lebedev’s brave decision to close the printed Independent, and use the proceeds from the sale of the ‘i’ to enhance their digital offering is, if not the first, likely the harbinger of what will follow.

I started forecasting the longevity of the average printed newspaper back in 2012, when it became increasingly obvious econometrically that many newspaper companies were not going to survive the transition from print to digital. Since then the forecasts have become ever more reliable, but the dates of forecast have hardly changed.

Newspapers’ demise won’t be because circulation disappears, but because they will not have sufficient coverage to achieve an advertising response. Within most newspapers’ current business model, they will no longer be able to sustain their costs, and in particular the cost of printing. The only hope therefore is that digital revenues, will be sufficient to stoke the engine room. In some cases this will be true, sadly for many a successful transition seems very unlikely.

The econometric argument

The first issue is whether there is any linkage between newspaper circulation in a country and newspapers advertising revenue. Since the scale variances of both may be coincidental (as they were in the 1980’s), the proof has to be demonstrable across different markets. Since advertising revenue is subject to range of other factors (such as GDP), the method chosen is to compare circulation volumes, and newspapers’ share of advertising by country, over time. This is demonstrated in chart 1 below.

FoP national analysis

The R2 co-efficient suggests that there is sufficient linkage between the two factors to say that across markets, there is some correlation between falling sales, and falling shares of advertising. If Spain, which has exhibited a number of peculiarities is removed the R2 co-efficient rises to around 55%, suggesting that the linkage is robust enough.

If this method is then transferred to national markets then we find that the correlations are significantly stronger. The R2 correlations are over 0.98. The charts below correlate the declines in circulation and advertising, with the known and forecast points illustrated by year.

FOP Europe pictureThe years of zero share forecast are shown in the table below

Table1 Year of zero viability
Austria          n.a.       Italy                     2020
Belgium        n.a.       Netherlands         2020
Denmark       n.a.       Norway                2018
Finland        2026      Spain                      n.a.
France         2018      Sweden                2023
Germany     2022      Switzerland          2019
Ireland        2020      UK                       2019

How the scenario will roll-out


As I’ve suggested since producing these forecasts, we are not going to reach a point where advertising lights are suddenly switched off. Rather we will experience an increasing rate of attrition. For some years now, individual advertisers have been concluding that newspapers are no longer an effective form of communication, so the numbers of advertisers are declining.

Secondly they are slowly choosing to limit their spending to fewer and fewer titles.

The third outcome then is that newspapers will begin to find that their print business is unviable. The question then is whether their digital products either are currently viable, or with the closure of the print service, some revenue can be transferred to the digital service.

Some newspaper companies – The Guardian, Mail-Online, Mirror regionals can see a point of inflection in the near future, and can be confident that their digital services will be self-sufficient. Other groups will struggle, but succeed their migration before print becomes unviable. But a significant number of titles, or groups of titles, will simply fail.

National v Regional

Finally I, been asked what is the difference between the prognosis for nationals and regionals. My analysis suggests that the “average” national title will hit the zero share point toward the end of 2018, and the “average” regional title’s zero share point late 2019. Of course each title will be subject to different versions of the scenarios outlined about.

And then 

It is suggested that the driver of the Lebedev’s decision to close the printed Independent, was the approach, from Johnston to buy The ‘i‘. This is a good opportunity for The Independent, but the logical from Johnston’s perspective is  eludes me completely. The idea that:  “We wanted to go after more national advertising revenue and have a bigger train set across which to offer our digital services” is at best naive. 

Yet at the same time Trinity Mirror have announced the launch of their own “mid-market, low price newspaper. This project has been long in the making, by a management team who are among the best in the business. Their in-house sales operation has always struggled to integrate their national and local newspaper offer. The notion that JP will be able to pull this off is fanciful, with an outsourced sales-house, who excellent as they are, also have to deal with a raft of other regional groups.


The Lebedev’s decision is not the first, but it is the first of a major title, and is particularly significant given The Independent’s history of innovation, and influencing the world of newspapers.

The newspaper industry is very conservative and significantly prone to emulation rather than innovation. Perhaps the most significant example of this was tabloiditis, where during a short period hundreds of titles made the move to a smaller format, with little realistic strategic thinking. The newspaper that started all this was The Independent. There are many publishers, across Europe and North America who have been waiting for some-one else to go first.

I’ve predicted that as we move the zero share point will see an increasing number of titles either following the Independent into digital, succumbing to the failure to migrate viably, or perhaps reducing the frequency of publishing (for which there are strong arguments).

But having followed the behaviour of publishers for decades, I suspect that there is an approaching Tsunami of transformation. A final factor is the timing and shape of the inevitable economic downturn.

By 2020, the fate of the European Newspaper Industry will be clear.

© Jim Chisholm. February 2016.

I am happy to provide further clarification of any of the points above, and have forecasts for most countries.

Phone:     +447775817797
Skype:     jpchisholm                   

Destination or distributed, or not….

So what’s new about the news that all the digital big boys are suddenly launching big news initiatives.

In April, Google launched  their “€150m Innovation Fund for the European news sector to “encourage and financially support fresh thinking in the practice of digital journalism”.

The project now boasts 11 founding partners including The Financial Times, El Pais, Die Zeit an openly skeptical Guardian Absentees include News Corp and Axel Springer,  and “over 1,000 interested parties” in from the start, including a wide range of new entrants. A good move by Google? You bet.

Meanwhile Facebook have launched “Instant Articles” which enables publishers to “distribute any type of article, from daily news to long-form features. Instant Articles integrate seamlessly with your current workflow, using existing production tools. 

“Publishers are in control. You decide what to publish. Sell ads in your articles and keep the revenue, or take advantage of Facebook Audience Network to maximize total revenue. 

“Watch autoplay video come alive as you scroll through the article. See where it all happened with interactive maps. Hear the author’s voice with embedded audio captions.”

Providing it’s on Facebook of course.

Then there are Twitter’s “Moments” – aimed at attracting content from publishers and the twitterati. Their proposition suggests:  “Tapping on the new lightning bolt tab on your phone opens a list of Moments that matter now. As new stories emerge throughout the day, we continue to update this list.”

By “Lightening Bolt” they mean “human curated news” of content (which seems somewhat counter productive in this automated age) from the likes of Buzzfeed, Fox News, Getty Images, Mashable, NASA, New York Times, Vogue and the Washington Post.

All in 160 Characters…. but then I’ve never been a Twitterer.

Most recently Apple’s “News App” hopes to “make newspapers and magazines relevant in an era of smartphones and tablets”. It promises “beautiful content from the world’s greatest sources, personalised for you… You’ll no longer need to move from app to app to stay informed”. So far, in the UK, the concept has enticed The Guardian, The Telegraph, Mail Online, Financial Times, Sky News and others.

This is code for a concept I tried to roll out about ten years ago, where someone could subscribe to an online new-stand and pick out articles across a range of different media, who can choose whatever pricing model they want, from free to pay per word, to full subscription, and beyond.

That was when the industry was three times the size it is now…. If only….

Anyway, blame my cynicism on my Presbyterian upbringing. One rich man opening his arms to a troubled child is a blessing. Four turning up at the same time is  either a Bethlehem moment, or a patsy shoot.

I’ve long believed that Google’s intentions are honorable, being a long proponent of Google News as a positive generator of audience (though I used to worry they’d start charging for traffic). Other than creating a pool of projects in which they can further invest from their fortunes, this is a good initiative, good for publishers, and new entrants, and good for the competitive market.

But my biggest concern is that publishers are moving from a destination model to a distributed model.

Rather than being a branded source of knowledge, through Facebook and Twitter, et al, traditional publishers are taking an easy route to an audience at the expense of brand value dilution. It’s no coincidence that the likes of Microsoft and Google indulge in print and TV advertising. They recognise their own weakness is they are media for engagement not for branding.

In March 2012 I wrongly wrote, during the leadup to Facebook’s IPO that the company was already past the peak of its product life-cycle. For a year after their launch, its share price skulked well below that at launch. Since then it has enjoyed a meteoric rise. Meanwhile Twitter has floundered, perhaps reflecting the early dip of business evolution, but I never got the 160 concept.

As for Apple. I’ve abandoned my MacBook and iPhone, because I don’t like their ever more-evasive walled garden. Not somewhere I believe to be either as a consumer or a publisher.

My sense, as these massive predators move in, is that a distributed model will never be as sustainable as a destination model. It’s fine to use these other channels as a promotional devices, but as soon as they become your destination, you’re dead. Given the increasing levels of walled-gardening, and the very sinister need for users to provide their most valuable personal secrets as a price of access, relying on any of these options as a long term solution, is a bad strategic move.

As publishers continue to redefine their viable long-term model, these new offers of partnership have some appeal. But ultimately the brand will prevail. Well promoted. Nurtured. Continuously improved. But always in control.

Back to a rapidly evolving world

After six months away from the industry, I am now back to a very different scene. Mobile will become the access medium of choice this year – I first anticipated this back in 2004 [], but was wrong about just how long it would take to get there. But most publishers’ fortunes are still tied to a more rapidly declining print audience, and its consequential driver of advertising.

It is now clearler that ever that a new, for more significant tipping point, is rapidly approaching. And, as I wrote back in August 2014 [], traditional players are falling into distinct groups, in terms of likely success or failure.

Lot’s more to follow.