The Irish News and operating profitably on the net…

Roy Greenslade has an interesting piece on the Irish News’ firewall. Not least the money figures:

If you click on the Irish News website up comes a page demanding that you pay for access to a digital edition. There is a choice: £5 for one week’s editions, £15 for a month’s and £150 for a year’s.

The result? According to, since its launch in December 2009, the News’s site has secured just 1,215 paid subscriptions: 525 weekly, 370 monthly and 320 yearly.

Okay, so not a great success. But as the Andersonstown News experience shows (they put on 1,000 readers after taking the content offline), closing off the print content of a newspaper or magazine does no harm to your print sales. Indeed, its the point Roy kicks off with. And in that space the Irish News looks pretty good:

In the final six months of last year, its print editions sold an average of 45,667 copies a day across Northern Ireland and into the Republic.

Though that represents a 4% decrease on the comparable half-year of 2008, it has to be seen in the light of a cover price rise, from 60 to 70p, in February 2009.

Anyway, its sales fall looks very reasonable when compared with the greater declines at the majority of regional dailies. The News saw off the launch of a rival, Daily Ireland (January 2005-September 2006), and has also consistently out-performed its other competitors.

It has eclipsed the News Letter (sales: 24,555) and has given the once-mighty Belfast Telegraph (down to 66,000 a day, of which only 55,000 are sold at full price) a run for its money.

Now that’s good. And it will not surprise anyone who watches the Northern Irish news market that Doran and the Fitzpatrick’s commitment to the quality of the product is paying off.  The commercial forces behind the decision are relatively simple to understand. Liam McMullan, the paper’s systems and resource manager:

“When the paper was available for free, apart from the cost of running the website, we were losing readers of the paid for paper to the free online model, which was economic madness. Now readers have a clear and equitable choice, pay for a printed newspaper or pay for the same paper online.”

But the BMG have gone down a slightly different route. Most of the content they put online is different (or at least differently packaged for the web). Mairtin’s column is a thing in and of itself. Gerry Adams has a blog, which is paid for like a column in the paper, but it has a whole other private life of its own online. The relationship with the group’s papers is similar to that between the Spectator magazine and its much more rowdy online sister, the Coffee House.

In the case of the Irish News, some of their best columnists (and some of the best in NI) have simply disappeared from online discussion and debate. True, we do do our best to keep with the best of what they offer, but the subscription only gets you access to a facsimile of that day’s paper. It’s uncopyable, and worse (at least the last time I looked) the archives have disappeared.

Unlike some bloggers, I am in decidedly in favour of newspapers making money out of online content. But the value proposition has to be right. Access to the Irish online would be valuable to me, if it came in a format that I could use. What works offline in print doesn’t necessarily work in the context of the net: paywall or not.

In the short term, the Irish News’s focus on making money out of the print edition and preserving that present value is the right thing to do. But it does not yet have a viable strategy for working into the online space. Although to be fair neither do any of the big regional papers in Northern Ireland.

As Adrian notes, the game is changing and like him or loathe him, Rupert Murdoch is in the vanguard of that change. All Newspapers need a newspaper strategy if they don’t want to become history’s chip paper… Protecting current revenues can only be part of that strategy. For the rest, iterative innovation has to be the way forward.

For now, no generalist paper has a comprehensive answer to the question of how you make money on the net. In the meantime the rule has to be: stick with what works, and dump what doesn’t…

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  • HeinzGuderian

    Ah,Daily Oirland…………….how I miss that unbiased rag sheet. By the Editor,how come Martin Miller didn’t lose his job when it folded ?? :O)

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    To some extent this is a similar story to the Belfast Libraries closing.
    Newspapers and Libraries are (unfortunately) in 1964 not 2010.
    Then the IN was a broadsheet, 2d and usually 8 pages (but occasionally just 6 pages)..including one (two at weekend with agency horse racing with tips from Red Hand and Course Wire. A guy called Smith was the greyhound correspondent (Celtic Park AND Dunmore) and there was a page of death notices.
    So a weeks delivery cost 1shilling and three pence (the 3d was for delivery).
    The Troubles made the Irish News.
    Not just in terms of news stories and stringer income.
    But income generated from those multiple obituary notices.
    Of course even by the mid 1970s it was still not respectable enough to be allowed on to the BBC if journalistic opinion was needed. James Kelly then of the Indo did the face offs with Pauley or Hanna.
    But do people in Belfast really get newspapers delivered anymore?
    Do we actually need Newspapers when we have the Internet and 24 hour news.
    Is the new template not the oldest form….the Andytown News with those endless pics from 50th wedding anniversaries or the Armagh Observer with those endless pics of the crowds at local GAA matches. Surely thats why people buy papers.
    The Irish News is neither local or national …it cant compete.
    But isnt newspaper and magazine SUBSCRIPTION an American thing? Dont young Americans pay their way thru college doing that.
    Its never caught on here in print and unlikely to catch on for Internet access either. Those 320 yearly subscriptions. Id suggest the majority were corporate. And those weekly and monthly subscriptions ….are they seasonal…related for example to the General Election.
    All my newspaper and magazine purchases are ….as retail newsagents say……”footfall”……If Im on a bus, I need a paper. If Im having lunch in Belfast, I need one…..and frankly its never a local paper.
    As the cliché would have it Breakfast and Lunchtime TV news is more up to date than a newspaper.
    But how many of us actually buy a newspaper or go online for “news”.
    When I buy a newspaper.usually the Guardian since you ask… was a decade or so ago to re-assure myself that I shared the world view of Ian Aiken or Hugo Young. These days I wonder why I read it all at…with that awful Europhile Garton Ash guy.
    The much vaunted DEMOCRACY and OPEN-NESS that the advocates of online “News” tell us about will never happen……not commercially.
    People will not BUY “News” if they can get “News” for Free.
    And the partisan “news” sites will supply their version of news for free.
    Who needs the Irish News online when you can have the Pensive Quill online?

  • Big Maggie

    I can the day coming soon when the BBC will rule the roost online.

    Mind you, they could start charging too, but given that they’re taxpayer-funded, they’d have to make their case really well to explain why we can’t have content for nothing.

  • brendan

    The Irish News endures primarily because it is a quality product. It iw actually worth reading each day and on a Saturday there is plenty of decent copy. If you happen to be a GAA fan (as I am) it is literally indispensable.

    If only they got rid of Briege Gadd – I have never managed to finsih one of her incomprehensible columns.

  • Turnpike

    Quality product…? They’ll no doubt be reporting on some obscure, school gaelic game when the rest of the world turns its attention the the summer’s real spectacle…The WORLD cup

  • Argosjohn

    Very good post. I saw a TV series recently on British companies trying to crack overseas markets. One guy had spent £60 k on a website selling indigenous knick knacks for a 10% commission. He got £1000 of sales in Brazil. His American competitor was spending something like £1/4 million per month on Google.

    My point? The poster here keeps referring back to the interesting topic of on line info businesses. No free lunch is to be had there. How many blogs atc actually make money?

    Are we not swamped with info? Mention has been made of obituaries, GAA crowds and other handy little earners. But these are very local.

    I would venture the future is with the big boys. I use ebay to buy stuff quite a lot. I find myself buying more and more from Tesco, Argos and similar outfits using ebay – ie not from the little guy. I see online content going the same way.

    Though Murdoch is not to be understimated, in London they give papers away. I often read The Guardian, the Telegraph (easily the best paper) and the Daily Mail. All interesting today but none are really must haves as papers would have been many moons ago.

    The logic of the Internet, be it porno or Irish papers, is it must be free.

    This is a topic that really interests me. Maybe I should look for more free info on the Net on it.

    Incidentally, what are the finances of this site?

  • jon the raver

    ‘who buys a paper now’

    If you look at the paper’s circulation for the past 10 plus years I believe it consistently increases. This is against the backdrop of decreasing sales across the whole industry.

    Had the Irish News been a London paper it would have been something we would not have heard the end of !

    Instead they have plodded along with an almost modest ‘not taking it for granted and always improving type way.

    The latest figures that showed a decreasse was the first decline for the paper – seen with a 10p increase in cover price which is detrimental to any paper.

    However, the Irish News is constatnly evolving as a paper – compared to Belfast Telegraph and Snooze Letter it is by far the best product.

    However, the online content debate is one that needs addressing – the BBC website – although one of the very finest does need scaled down.

    It can’t be the role of a public service broadcaster to put good journalism in the prvate sector out of business – although it will be a sad day if it does.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yes thats true but inevitably the Partisans (like FUX News) can finance its Partisan views.
    No big money backs “independent thought”.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The balance of probability is that some children of the readership of the Irish News will be involved in an obscure GAA school game while not many will be involved in the World Cup.
    You and I both know that the Irish News will take Agency Reports….so Im not sure what your point was at all.
    My point was that thruout the north there are newspapers who exist on local sports reports or local girl passes driving test…or school prize giving. whether its the Tyrone Courier or the Coleraine Whatever.
    Theres a market out there for folks in Dungannon and Coleraine to buy five copies of the local paper or visit the office for a print of a photograph.
    Whole pages are devoted to pics of underage GAA games . These are bought by doting grandparents. Not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff but newspapers survive on it.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “who buys a paper now”
    Did I say that? To be honest I never read the stuff I post ut Im pretty sure I said “do people in Belfast get papers delivered” and later I said “do people buy newspapers for news (sic)”….as i pointed out in my own case i buy newspapers notably the Guardian to turn to its Comment Pages to have my world view confirmed as right.
    The Irish News is indeed the best of our local papers.
    I wish it well.
    But not enough to buy it except if it features a story that catches my eye when Im buying a pint of milk. And certainly not enough to subscribe to print or internet.

  • joeCanuck

    I wonder how many people know about
    You can read for free the front page of over 1400 newspapers (actual facsimiles) worldwide including a few Irish ones, Irish Times e.g. and dozens of UK ones.
    For $10US/month you have full access to any one newspaper and for $30US, all of the papers. Quite incredibly cheap. The Bel Tel is there.

  • Big Maggie


    Thanks for the heads-up!

  • The suggestion at the start of this thread that the A/town News put on 1,000 readers after taking its content offline is contradicted by the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures. According to the annual ABC report released earlier this year, both the Monday and Thursday editions of the ATN were down around 15 per cent. This means that the paper lost rather than gained well over 1,000 weekly sales, and the statistics for its parent group, which includes the North and South Belfast News titles, were far worse, indicating an overall circulation decline for the company which was approaching 25 per cent. Most daily and weekly papers are losing readers, but very few have reached the same level of freefall as the ATN group. It is certainly not going to be rescued by any online policy, and the evidence is that it has never recovered from the startling misjudgments involved throughout the Daily Ireland debacle.

  • indicator

    Mairtín Ó Muilleoir – the part he’s played in his publications has seen the demise of a few; not just Daily Ireland – and Lá Nua – complaining because he didn’t get public money.

    With TIN, they should have kept the archives and offered excerpts (one paragraph maybe) of each post and asked for subscription, like Hotpress. They’ve made a terrible choice in putting up a clinical old money-grabbing page.