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The Cornavirus pandemic has devastated the print publishing world. We explore the continuing trends that have seen many traditional print publishers turn to digital in a bid to survive.

The pandemic has had a disastrous impact to all facets of life in the UK. We’ve all felt the impacts, from government restrictions on social interactions to the UK economy falling into recession.

In our corner of publishing, we’ve witnessed sweeping industry changes. Especially in the print sector which has been besieged by the pandemic. Supply chain issues, the lockdown and a major behavioural shift in working patterns have combined to create a significant decline in readership, print sales and advertising revenue.

Traditional print publishers of magazines, catalogues and newspapers are now exploring digital for the first time in a bid to survive the onslaught. This shift is off the back of a huge surge in readership moving online.

We take a closer look at these trends as the publishing industry continues to make a significant shift from print to digital distribution.

Print publishing stats make for painful reading

Looking at figures over the past six months would turn even the most stalwart businessman a nasty shade of green. National newspapers have been hardest hit. Experiencing a significant decline in readership and circulation figures caused by an apparent behavioural shift triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, Metro’s circulation was 1.5 million copies a day. At the height of the lockdown in April 2020, it fell as low as 400,000 copies per day. A decline of almost 75%.

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s effective turnaround strategy, put in place over three years was dismantled in the first three weeks of the lockdown. With their last six months’ revenues mpw estimated to have declined by almost £20 million.

Traditional print publishers are exploring digital for the first time

Many magazines, catalogues and newspapers are now exploring all new digital mediums to avoid financial collapse.

Satya Nadella recently commented on how corporations have been impacted by the pandemic. He went on record to say “Microsoft has seen two years’ of digital transformation in two months” when talking about the changes needed to shift to home working.

This same digital transformation is being forced on print publishers across the globe. Businesses who’ve been tentatively exploring digital, or even opposed to the medium, are now rushing to online publication as they seek to recapture their readership. Which to date appears to have transitioned online, with the top 10 news websites seeing a 54% increase in readership.

Those who fail or refuse to adapt – even for the short term – now face the very real prospect of financial collapse. This period could see some household names disappear from shelves in the local newsagents.

An issue of distribution

Print publications are dependent upon distribution. Editions need to be printed, distributors need to deliver copies and shops need to make the sales. It’s clear the pandemic has disrupted the printing process, causing a sharp decline in readership and revenue.

National newspapers have suffered hefty double-digit declines in circulation as the pandemic has accelerated a pattern of decline in print sales.

The Financial Times is among the biggest losers with a 42% year-on-year decline in print sales. Elsewhere, the Daily Mail & General Trust announced their recently acquired i newspaper saw a 33% decline in print sales.

The new trend of working from home has also introduced new challenges for distribution. B2B catalogues and magazines, previously sent to a single business address, are now being left unread and gathering dust in abandoned offices.

B2B Publishers hoping to reach their audience through print now face the challenge of securing home addresses for delivery. Add to this the increased distribution costs associated with sending the publication to multiple addresses and the problems become clear. With the cost of posting a large catalogue around £5-8, this increased cost base quickly stacks up and eats away at the bottom line.

From Time Out to Time In: The absence of commuter trade

Free print magazines reliant on commuters have seen their readership dissolve with many employees now working from home full time. At the height of the Coronavirus lockdown in March, 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home.

As of October 2020, 24% of adults in employment continue to work from home. Combine that with strict restrictions on public transport, and it’s unsurprising that commuter readership has plummeted.

Time Out and Stylist magazines temporarily halted their print editions, switching to a digital business model to cope with the impact of Covid19. Time Out temporarily rebranded to Time In, delivering a series of their first digital-only publications.

To date, both publishers remain in the digital space as they struggle to recover from the lockdown period. Time Out have tentatively resumed printing in only 3 major cities but look set to disappear from a majority of the 40 cities they previously served.

Meanwhile, Stylist have resumed printing in a limited capacity only, as they look to recover from their Covid-19 hiatus. The publisher recently announced this reduced run will continue through to February 2021 as impacts of the pandemic linger.

Elsewhere, The Evening Standard and Metro have been presented with nothing short of a financial nightmare. Both newspapers depend largely on the footfall of commuters to generate their readership.

With major commuter stations now largely deserted, both Newspapers have seen their distribution numbers drop by almost 50%. In May 2020, The Guardian reported daily distribution of the Evening Standard fell from 800,000 copies to 423,000.In an attempt to boost readership, they’ve experimented with a home delivery service, to little avail. The Standard now seemingly reduced to a flimsy freesheet, virtually free from advertisements.

The Metro has also suffered badly due to the working from home switch. Reporting a print circulation decline of 37% at the end of August 2020.

Though the impact is wide reaching, with the Daily Business Group reporting most national newspapers experiencing an average year-on-year decline of about 20%.

Advertising goes AWOL

The steep decline in print readership during the pandemic has triggered a significant downturn in print advertising. Compounding the revenue woes already being experienced by print publishers.

This trend is not a new one, print advertising revenues have been in steady decline for the years preceding the pandemic. A report from the Telegraph Media Group frames this perfectly with a reported decline in operating profits of £32million in 2004, to £900,000 in 2019.

The current crisis appears only to have accelerated this decay. With print readers transitioning to digital consumption and ad revenue spend following its audience. During the lockdown, the rate charged by advertising agencies was down by 70%.

According to a PWC report, the foreseeable future remains bleak for print newspapers. If it comes to pass, the next 5 years will see print advertising revenue fall 10.3% year on year. With revenues shrinking from $1.1 billion in 2019 to £674 million in 2024.

Hardest hit during the pandemic have been titles predominantly funded by advertising. In May 2020, The Daily Mail reported advertising revenue was down by 46%,. With print advertising down 69%, while digital advertising fell by only. The Metro experienced similar declines as its portfolio of titles reported a 70% plunge in print advertising revenues.

The switch to screen

So, who is doing digital well?

Many magazines, catalogues and newspapers are compensating for a decline in print sales by embracing digital publication, distribution and circulation of their news stories.

Despite its significant decline in the print sector, The Financial Times reported a 250% growth year-on-year for website readers. With coverage of the coronavirus crisis setting all new records for its digital publications.

The FT also experienced a rapid growth in digital subscriptions, with 50,000 new sign-ups in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. Meaning its online paid subscriber base sites at 1.09 million, with 75% more engaged subscribers than in 2016.

Elsewhere, JPI Media reported impressive gains. In June 2020, the publisher of the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post announced growth of 20-50% across its digital channels. There was also significant growth to their digital subscriber base with 1000s of new subscriptions in a period of weeks.

The latest Subscription Impact Report from Zuora has seen businesses focussed on digital subscription revenues show far greater resilience through the pandemic. As a collective, these businesses are bucking the readership decline. With 50% of digitally focussed publishers reporting they are growing faster than they were before the pandemic.

During the lockdown period from March to May 2020, subscriptions in the Digital News and Media category grew 110% compared to numbers from the previous year.

It’s not just the big names making the shift online. Here at YUDU, we’ve seen some of our own clients – old and new – make the shift to digital and reap the rewards.

Helen Dunne, Editor of CorpComms and a distinguished partner, commented: ‘We wanted to make sure our readers received their dose of CorpComms while working at home. So were delighted when YUDU managed to turn our magazine into a great looking digital version in super quick time.’

Our digital approach is enabling organisations, like CorpComms, to publish high quality digital magazines swiftly at a lower cost. With advanced tools to control distribution, gather GDPR-compliant data and review engagement statistics.

Heading into 2021…

As much as we’d all like to see life return to some semblance of normal, the Coronavirus appears to have other plans. New Government restrictions continue to emerge, infection rates are on the rise and further regions look set to slip into the tier 3 lockdown rules.

As we head to 2021, print publishers looking to survive the pandemic must continue to shift their publications online. With a focus on driving digital subscriptions in order to deal with the decline in advertising revenues.

The print industry now faces the existential question of whether digital subscriptions are the “new normal” or a temporary trend during this chaotic pandemic period. If only for the short term, it seems unavoidable that more print publishers will need to go digital in order to survive.

Here at YUDU, we are firm believers that traditional print will always have its place. But we know the power of digital and are here to help anyone exploring a digital alternative in these turbulent times.