There was many a line in this that caught my eye; most of which can be saved for another day.
It was Myners’ line right at the end, however, that maybe deserves some thought – the bit where he suggests that, when it comes to the regional press “there will be continuing pressure for consolidation of ownership to bring scale…”
We have been down this road a little before; in wondering just how Trinity Mirror’s excellent local community web-sites in Teesside – soon coming to a Coventry suburb near you – can be made to work in downtown Loddon.
It clearly can be made to work in Loddon; the question is whether or not it will be the Trinity-Mirror model that winds it’s way over the bridge from Chedgrave and up the High Street – or the Archant one. They are, of course, only ten miles up the road in Norwich and have, therefore, rather less of a trek to get here.
But Myners is clearly merely repeating what every regional newspaper executive knows; that to make their numbers work – to get that old, newsprint quart to fit in a web pint pot, they are going to have to get hold of some more pint pots… to give themselves scale, as Myners observes.
Now, I am no economist. But right now, with their share prices already halved and the credit crunch just starting to bite, who on earth has got any appetite whatsoever to consolidate the UK regional newspaper industry to the kind of scale that – in every likelihood – is now required must be something of a moot point.
Newsprint quart into a web pint pot and all that… how many pint pots are you going to need to make your scale viable in an age where, as Clay Shirky pointed out, traditional geographical constraints on our behaviour are flying out of the nearest window?
Does ‘scale’ entail a quantum mass that is numbers-only? Is that where advertising-heaven lies? In numbers? ‘Look, we have 22 million uniques… six million here, four over there, 200,000 down here…
But what if advertisers are looking for a scale that is more than just a patch-work quilt of numbers; more than pockets of influence? What if they want to hit every nook and crannie in the land?
Perhaps scale can come with ‘ownership’ of one of the four corners of this green and pleasant land… that Trinity Mirror and Northcliffe will sit down together and swap your Birmingham for our Bristol, our Cardiff for your Leicester, and so on…
Perhaps. But it seems unlikely. After all – and this is where I repeat that I’m no economist – but I presume that the wheels of any such consolidation process would need to be greased by large dollops of funding.
You sense that the markets have already delivered their verdict on newspaper stocks; the fact that the Birmingham Evening Mail didn’t exactly have people flocking to Trinity Mirror’s door might be further proof that whilst picking off the odd weekly here, the little free paper there might still be a possibility, the whole-scale reorganisation of the UK provincial newspaper industry looks one mountain that people have neither the will – nor increasingly the simple wherewithal – to climb.
Where that leaves us all is the next moot point. Under pressure, was Myners’ opinion.
In desperate need of starting from scratch, starting all over again from a blank piece of paper would be mine.