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Print is dead, long live print!

March was a very bad month for newspapers. The Independent stopped printing, The Guardian axed 310 jobs, and News UK was reported to be cutting more than 100 staff. More evidence of the inexorable death of print.

Yet, not everyone is buying this logic. Amidst the mood of gloom and pessimism currently hanging over most newsrooms, two titles have been launched to offer hope that such defeatism does not have to be accepted.

So what do the launches of New Day, Trinity Mirror’s newspaper aimed at 35-55 year-old women, and Raconteur, formerly a business supplement in The Times and Sunday Times and now a free, yet upmarket, monthly magazine, tell us about the public’s appetite for print? Millennials might only be interested in digital, but are there enough people aged over 35 who still want to feel news print in their hands?

Freddie Ossberg, the founder and publisher of Raconteur, certainly believes so. “Far from being dead, print is alive, kicking – and earning,” he argues in Campaign. “If you look under the bonnet at most publishers, digital revenues are still typically only 10-20 percent of turnover.” And of course, he’s right. Even The Guardian, which has seen its online reach grow at an impressive rate while its print circulation has continued to shrink, still gets around 60 percent of its revenues from its newspapers. Most other titles receive a far greater percentage than this from their newspapers.

So is there good business sense to the launch of Raconteur as a free monthly magazine and New Day as a daily paper? Certainly, the success experienced by The Evening Standard and i newspaper since they launched as a free newspaper and a compact title respectively offers reasons for optimism. The London daily has seen a significant growth in its circulation and profits, and i now outsells The Guardian, shifting nearly 300,000 copies each day.

Other publishers will be watching the fortunes of the titles with interest. It is very early days, but the first signs for Raconteur look positive from a business and journalistic perspective – a healthy mix of aspirational adverts with heavyweight, well-presented articles. For New Day, the omens are rather less good. Having initially sold up to 150,000 copies in the days after its launch, its circulation has now dropped to around half of that figure since it doubled its price to 50p.

More than a million people have stopped buying a newspaper in the past two years, but Simon Fox, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, said he believed “a large number of them can be tempted back with the right product”.

As a former journalist who spent a decade working for national newspapers, it would be excellent to see him proved right. But it is highly unlikely that New Day will be the product that does that. In looking like a combination of Metro and a women’s magazine, it lacks a distinct identity. And the decision to double the price so soon after its launch seems like a strange business move. The contrast with i, which it has looked to emulate, could not be greater. Packaging the news concisely with a well-designed layout brought it a distinct readership which has remained loyal as the price has been gradually increased.

The success of i proved that Simon Fox is possibly right. But unfortunately, it is unlikely that New Day will give us any more answers to whether there is an untapped newspaper audience. Ironically, between Raconteur and New Day, it is the former, a freesheet, that might well have provided a better indication of the public’s willingness to pay for news because it exudes quality and insight sadly lacking in Trinity Mirror’s newspaper.

“Newspapers can live in the digital age if they have been designed to offer something different,” said Trinity Mirror’s chief executive. Different and distinct. That is the challenge for new titles to rise to. Anything less won’t succeed.

Written by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, former media correspondent for The Telegraph and now senior media adviser for Burson-Marsteller.

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