The Guardian’s David Leigh has suggested that ‘a £2-a-month levy on broadband could save our newspapers, with proceeds being distributed and reinvested to protect great journalism.’
This implies that great journalism is in danger. But news brands continue to set the news agenda, with national papers breaking stories on a daily basis which then migrate online and to other channels across the day.
Tune in to Sky News, Radio 5 Live or TalkSport just after 10pm each night and you can be sure they will be turning to the early editions of the next day’s papers to discuss the headlines.
The Daily Mail is the world’s most read online newspaper, and the Guardian is not far behind. The reach of news brands has never been bigger. It is always content that brings in the numbers, and great content comes from great journalists.
Each year there are around 4.3bn national newspapers purchased in the UK, as well a further 1.3bn regional paid for titles and 1.3bn more free local titles including the Metro and Evening Standard. At the current rate of decline of between 3-5% per year, national newspapers are safe for a very long time.
By 2032, if the decline continues at 3.5% per annum, there will still be more than 4.3m national newspapers purchased every day. Despite studies such as those from the likes of Future Exploration predicting widespread doom, these numbers will not vanish overnight.
While iPads, blogs and podcasts divide our time away from reading a newspaper, the source of the content remains the same. In the field of technology, it is a newspaper founded in 1821 which has the most followers on Twitter (@GuardianTech, 1.9m).
If you are looking for the latest football news, you will follow the likes of Henry Winter (Telegraph) and Oliver Kay (Times) for reliable insight and opinion, or you could be one of the (up to) 378k people who listen to the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast with James Richardson.
These numbers of course neglect the most important ones, those found on the bottom line. The model suggested by David Leigh would see revenues distribute proportionally to news brands based on online readership figures.
This would give the Guardian around £100m per annum, conveniently off-setting their annual losses of around £40m per year. Interestingly, this scheme to protect quality journalism would of course see the Mail Online, an already profitable enterprise, receive even more than the Guardian while many would query if their output qualifies as top-notch journalism.
How do we quantify quality? Would magazines or even blogs deserve a cut of this? Even Exaro, the investigative journalism website which now generates some newspaper content would have a claim for a share of this pie.
The existence of the BBC makes charging for online content difficult, and while the efforts of the Times have been admirable, their revenues aren’t enough to suggest this is the solution; with 10% of the active users of rival Telegraph.co.uk, advertisers won’t be sold on it either .
The FT may be nearer the mark with their 10 articles free per month approach, but maybe we need to look abroad. In Germany, for example, there is a tax on all products which are used to store digital media, from USB sticks to tablets and computers which is then hypothecated back to content providers.
Great journalism isn’t going anywhere. It lives and breathes in our national press each day and we won’t need to pay £2 each to collect a national subsidy to keep it that way.
iPads, websites and newspapers will continue to be fuelled by the same quality content that our print model has been powered by since the Daily Courant, the UK’s first daily paper, appeared in 1702.