The UK print media sector is facing escalating input cost inflation. Newsprint prices are 50% higher year on year in Q4 2021, noting that prices in 2020 were exceptionally low on soft demand. Based on 2019 rates, prices could be 25% higher in H1 2022. The squeeze on margins for print could destabilise the economics of supply overall

Newsprint inflation is being caused by soaring costs of recycled feedstock, exacerbated by the monopoly of a single supplying mill in the UK after years of attrition. Imports remain substantial, but impaired by the EU-wide crisis in the supply of paper products, alongside bottlenecks at points of entry to the UK

Although less significant a factor than paper in the cost of printing the news, electricity cost inflation is another worry for printers, noting that these costs were again also exceptionally low in 2020. Wholesale electricity prices surged by 80% in 2021 (Ofgem), due to pressure on gas supplies from Russia, and the global energy crisis, which will persist into 2022

 

 

The press industry lost £1 billion off the topline from the calamitous decline in print revenues due to pandemic-related mobility restrictions, partly offset by gains on digital subscriptions, much harder to precisely size in revenue terms.

Trapped at home for the most part, online traffic to BBC News and news publisher services boomed. Popular news sites marginally grew digital advertising while the quality nationals attracted 800,000 new paying subscribers to reach nearly three million in 2020.

The outlook for 2021, in the transition to the ‘new normal’, is mixed. Consumer work patterns and news, information and entertainment habits are unlikely to ‘bounce back’ to pre-pandemic levels, placing free commuter titles at particular risk. Signs of confidence through online innovation are welcome.

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Climate change is a core theme of this year’s Media and Telecoms 2021 & Beyond Conference, linking to the UK's presidency of COP26 in 2021, the UN’s 26th climate change conference.

Since 2015, the Paris Agreement frames mankind’s collective effort to address climate change by reducing emissions of harmful greenhouse gases (GHG), to limit warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, aiming for 1.5°C. The UK is committed to achieve this target and seeks, alongside other nations, to reduce its GHG emissions to net zero by 2050.

The UK, like other participants, will deliver net zero through mandatory carbon footprint reduction activities, an important component of which are businesses. This report profiles the carbon footprints of companies in the TMT sector, which are light in the case of most media companies, and heavier for telcos, which build and run network infrastructure.

An easy win we advocate for the TMT sector is to adopt a hybrid model for work on the back of pandemic-related work-from-home (WFH) practices, reducing office estates and commuting, permanently cutting the footprint.

The pandemic shows working from home is economically feasible in the UK, thanks to telco networks, platforms and services, disproving employers’ largely negative pre-existing views. WFH will also add value to office workers, about half of which support a hybrid model for the future. It liberates precious time from the commute, makes the office integral to value creation, and prevents carbon from being wasted.

Journalism is on the precipice with more than £1 billion likely to fall off the industry’s topline. Several years of projected structural revenue decline in advertising and circulation have occurred in just the past few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with no letup in sight.

The UK’s rich heritage of independent journalism is at risk, with responses by Government and ‘big tech’ multinationals welcomed but ultimately inadequate. We make two further recommendations for engagement in this report.

Journalism enterprises from the small, local and specialist outfits through to national household brands will either fail or remain on a path to future failure.

COVID-19 has sent online news surging, with publishers experiencing massive traffic uplift, as trusted news sources become increasingly important.

But the industry is still heavily reliant on print revenues, and we are seeing supply chains come under extreme pressure as core readers self-isolate and retail giants close or de-prioritise news media. Advertising—including categories like retail and travel—has collapsed.

In face of existential threats to the sector, we have written to DCMS to mobilise Government funding to sustain news provision and journalism.

The local press is in an existential crisis: relentless decline in revenues since 2004 has rebased the scale of the sector, but there is little if any consensus about what to do next, despite broad agreement that the implications for democracy are deeply troubling

Incumbents have focused on incremental innovation with limited success, and have failed to adapt their digital strategies from those created 20 years ago, despite overwhelming evidence that they do not work, and never will

We argue for radical innovation, switching the industry’s focus from advertising to communities, building new use-cases while also sustaining print media for as along as possible, both to buy time but also to develop a multimedia roadmap for utility, entertainment and public good services

Consumer magazine circulation and advertising continue to spiral down, with notable exceptions at the top of the market and in a handful of key genres, triggering ever greater revenue diversification and innovation The market is fundamentally over-supplied and the gap between successful portfolios and the glut of secondary titles is growing. Furthermore, the distribution and retail supply chain hang by a thread There are some encouraging signs. Publishers are evolving, with their strategies and leadership capabilities increasingly defined by the needs of the industry they serve rather than the publishing brands they exploit, bringing the consumer model closer to more thoroughbred B2B models

Specialist publisher Future has offered £140m for generalist TI Media’s 41 brands, which will give Future 220 global brands upon expected completion in Spring 2020. The acquisition, which includes wholesaler Marketforce, is contingent upon shareholder and CMA approval

Future is the darling of publisher stocks, pursuing an energetic growth and scale strategy, and diversifying revenues through digital and experience innovation

How Future’s culture of experimentation and optimisation will work with TI Media’s more general portfolio is an open question. Only time will tell if the overall portfolio balance will work

Media coverage of women’s sport escalated this summer thanks to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which ignited national interest. The Lionesses attracted an exceptional peak TV audience of 11.8 million for England’s semi-final match against the USA

Still, coverage of women's sport remains minimal outside of major events: only 4% of printed sports articles reference female athletes. Quality press are leading the way—the launch of Telegraph Women’s Sport being the prime example—but the popular press are yet to follow

Freely-accessible coverage will generate greater interest and audiences for women’s sport, but continuous investment from all media will be needed to fulfil its potential

The average cover price of national newspapers has risen by 58% since 2010, more than twice the CPI increase of 22%. Are publishers “shooting themselves in the foot” at a time when buyers and advertisers are defecting to online?

To settle this, we analysed all the cover price events by national titles between 2010 and 2018, which reveals the relative success of The Times when it has raised its price.

For mid-market and popular titles, cover price hikes have on balance reduced circulation revenues and, by lowering reach, drained advertising revenue: a lose-lose scenario.