Written evidence from The Association of News Retailing (FLM 44)
1. The Association of News Retailing (ANR) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the future of local and regional media.
2. Local and regional publications form an important part of ANR members' sales and in many of our members' shops local titles can often outsell national newspapers.
3. ANR represents the news industry interest of Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) which is the campaigning voice of more than 33,500 local shops.
4. Membership of ACS /ANR comprises both
retailers and suppliers, and the organisation prides itself on its ability to
garner information and knowledge from the sector as a whole. This is then used
to provide insight and practical help to benefit all members.
5. Membership consists of: independent community retailers; symbol group retailers such as Spar, Costcutter, Musgrave; multiple retailers such as Mills News, GT News and the Co-op. (Appendix 1 contains a full list of ANR members).
6. ANR supports the need for a strong and vibrant local press as a means of ensuring that the community are able to play an active part in local democracy, not least holding their local representatives to account.
7. Local newspapers also engender a sense of community belonging with local news, including announcements such as births, deaths, marriages that can create a necessary social cohesion that benefits the whole community.
8. But even as supporters of local press we would dispute the need for a relaxation of merger regulations as we believe that a reduction in competition would not be in the consumers interest.
9. Creating regional newspapers groups would undermine the very purpose of local newspapers, for instance their local content, local and regional news is not the same and we have concerns that such cost efficiency measures would potentially harm local news.
10. A regional title even with local content would be a poor version of a local newspaper and an even poorer version of a national newspaper.
11. We recognise how important the internet is to many members of the community, but it should be remembered that there are large sections of the population that do not use, or do not have access to, the internet and rely on local newspapers as their primary source for local information.
12. With the rise of the internet has come an increase in plagiarism and copy right infringement and this issue needs to be looked at in more detail to ensure that not only journalistic integrity is protected, but that journalist and publishers continue to receive adequate remuneration for the work that they do.
13. It is often the case that local journalism can act as the spark for many nationally covered stories, both online and in national newspapers.
14. The internet is often blamed for damaging newspaper sales by providing the news free of change, and this is often blamed for undervaluing the news and damaging both national and local newspaper sales.
15. It is in no ones interest to ignore technological progress and for good or bad the internet is here to stay together with a generation that sees the internet as a necessary interaction platform.
16. If local newspapers are to thrive then they need to engage with the technological generation for if they do not, no amount of internet or broadband tax will generate readers, indeed it will just postpone the inevitable.
17. One way to engage the interest of the young is to provide free local newspaper vouchers to schools for their pupils, and to include them in the education progress, for instance as part of English lessons.
18. But, the internet is not the only freely available news source. Possibly even worse than free to access websites, is free newspapers, as these are an even more direct substitute to paid for titles, given away both national and locally by the very same publishers that produce the paid for titles.
19. The one thing both these events have managed to do is to create a consumer expectation that information, including the news, can be obtained for free.
20. Free newspapers also remove much needed revenue from community retailers threatening their existence and further damaging social cohesion.
21. There is no doubt that newspapers made a fundamental error when they set up their websites making them free to use, but there is also no doubt that giving away the news in the form of free newspapers has also had an adverse impact on newspaper sales.
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23. Some publishers have even taken their paid for titles and converted them to free publications, removing them from the newsstand, offsetting the loss of cover price income with the increase in advertising revenue. This was fine when advertising was buoyant but as ad revenues decline the titles are suffering. Had they remained paid for they would now have a dual income stream to rely on.
24. News International has recognised the need to charge for its online content with other publishers looking to follow suit. Newspaper publishers should also recognise the cannibalistic effect that their own free newspapers have on the paid for copy and look at reversing this trend.
25. The practice operated by many local councils of producing their own in-house newspaper/magazine has had a detrimental affect on the local press. Not only do they remove a valuable income source, when the council needs to present the community with information, notices etc they also compete for advertising income unfairly depriving local publications of much need income.
26. Not only does this practice badly undermined the local press but it does a major disservice to the local community.
27. These publications sing the virtues of the local authority/council in a very biased way. Instead of giving a measured and unbiased account of the actions of the authority they are often no more than propaganda sheets dressed up to look like an independent publication.
28. Councils should not be allowed to set up their own community newspaper; they should be legally obliged to use independent local media sources to communicate with the electorate. If the message cannot stand the scrutiny of local reporters, then maybe it's the message that should be changed not the method of delivery.
29. Local publishers should look to utilise the existing national newspaper wholesale network when considering their distribution process. These wholesalers, Smiths News and Menzies Distribution, in effect cover the entire country and there are obvious copy management and distribution synergies to be had through, supply monitoring and allocation, delivery and returns collection.
30. Local and regional publishers should focus on the core activities surrounding the publication of newspapers, and contract out none core activities such as distribution to, for instance, the national newspaper wholesalers.
31. We have to decide what is important to us as a community and create or amend existing models to enable us to achieve these desired aims.
32. If it is believed that local newspapers are an important part of community life, then new readers need to be encouraged to read them, what better place to do this than schools.
33. Community representatives, for instances local councils, also need to do their part and not compete with, but use, local newspapers.
34. Free newspapers damage the paid for copy by creating a culture of expectation that will undermine any chance of selling newspapers. Fine in a booming economy but sustainable in the longer-term.
35. Before any form of financial support is given to publishers these issues need to be addressed.
ANR Membership July 2009
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