Why All The News That’s Fit To Print Is Flawed – We’re In The Age Of Niche
Recently, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempted to relaunch himself and his sometimes toxic personal brand to a British public still deeply sceptical about his reputation and motivation. He did so by writing an article for a newspaper about the EU referendum, the dangers of a ‘hard’ Brexit and the need for the Labour party to set the agenda as it once did under his leadership.
He could have chosen any newspaper to air his thoughts but, instead, opted for a 48-page niche publication that’s put together by five people in a tiny office in Norwich, far from the media hub of London. The New European was only meant to last about a month when it launched in April – its ‘pop-up’ status designed for the closing stages of the referendum vote itself and for those who wanted to remain within the EU. Four months after its launch, it sells around 20,000 copies a week and, remarkably, has extended its print-run. Blair’s article will no doubt give it a much-needed boost.
Three national print newspapers – The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and The New Day – may have perished in the past year but The New European may have discovered an unlikely formula for success. Instead of competing with everyone else – especially digital – on every topic under the sun, perhaps it is better to become known for a single issue that people actually care about. Create a brand with true conviction, devoted to a small section of the population, and don’t be afraid of being derided for tunnel vision.
The New European glories in its pro-EU coverage with editor Matt Kelly saying the paper ‘’will live as long as Brexit is a massively contentious issue’’. So that’s the next decade sorted. Unsurprisingly, it sells best in the areas where people tend to believe the EU is a good thing – so London, the south and east and other cities like Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh.
Most UK newspapers enjoyed a post-Brexit circulation rise but, aside from The Times (which increased its readers by 12 per cent year on year in September) sales of national titles continue to fall. Plus, advertising revenues are expected to plummet by as much as 20 per cent this year.
One of those key figures charged with boosting circulation and profits is Steve Auckland, a pugnacious Yorkshireman who, when he worked with DMGT, helped to turn around the free newspaper, Metro. One of the most respected figures in the newspaper industry, he was recently in charge of the London Evening Standard and the digital-only Independent. Last year gave a fascinating talk in which, right at the end, he said something incredibly revealing: ‘’Will the industry be around in 10 years’ time? Of course it will. However, I think there will be more niche publications than ever, targeting particular markets and targeting those particular markets really well. This will be the way to commercially make quite a lot of money.’’
It’s already happening. In the field of design, for instance, there are a plethora of new magazines such as the heavily-ironic Canadian publication It Ran which focuses purely on advertising ads, and Galerie aimed at the New York art crowd. The health and tech markets are extremely vibrant too but perhaps it’s not just interests that adapt well to niche publications but ideologies. After all, the Communist Morning Star still sells 10,000 copies a week (for £1 each) despite its deeply unfashionable hard left agenda.
Ironically, what’s made the rise of these niche publications possible is the internet, especially crowdfunding websites. According to a report by The Media Briefing website a few months ago: ‘’As of March last year there were just shy of 2,000 funding campaigns for journalistic products on Kickstarter… And research published by the Pew Research Center showed it was more likely to be smaller publishers, down to the level of individuals, who are the primary beneficiaries on Kickstarter, with 43 per cent of all journalism projects funded being from individuals and another 29 per cent from small groups, compared to the quarter comprised of larger media outlets.’’
Of course finding initial funding success is no guarantee of longevity but perhaps longevity is not the primary motivator for anyone who wants to imbue a publication with conviction.
It’s almost inevitable that The New European will close one day and, refreshingly, it seems to have been created with just that intention. To be around long enough to tap into people’s feelings and make an impact. It has been a phenomenal success if measured by those criteria alone. We’re yet to know if it’s actually making much money for the owners, Archant Media.
But its true success may become apparent with the market it inspires – niche pop-up publications designed to make money over a short period of time by tapping into an ideology that traditional newspapers water down because of all the other material they are forced to publish.
Once, such publications were seen as luxuries. Now, an ailing industry might view them as necessities.