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Publishers See Reader Exits, Falling Revenues, Not Ready For Reality

Publishing the printed newspaper in the digital age has become an act heroic bravery. It is well known - and very well reported - that circulations have fallen, some precipitously. Publishers everywhere have given up and given in to the digital urge, citing voluminous evidence that the printed page is doomed. Others march on, not so much to engage the digital wind turbines but to defy them.

What is this?Readership for Spanish newspapers has been in retreat for a decade, since the Great Recession of 2008 say some. Daily newspapers attracted 16.2 million readers, measured by the February-November 2008 General Media Study (EGM). During the like period this year, daily readership had fallen to 9.6 million, another 860,000 lost in the last year.

Big national general interest dailies, over the decade, have under-performed. While daily newspaper readership across Spain has dropped 40% in a decade, El Pais and El Mundo have fallen by more than 50%, noted El Espanol (December 1). In a class by itself, free sheet 20 Minutos has lost 75% of its readership in a decade.

Closer in, the most recent EGM readership estimates show the general trend continuing. In the last year the top Spanish national general interest dailies - El Pais and El Mundo - have lost 11.3% and 13% readership, respectively. Even the flourishing sports dailies - AS, Marca, El Mundo Deportivo and Sport - dropped between 5% and 11%.

Less deserted by readers were regional daily titles; negligible - less than 3% - drops for La Vanguardia (Catalonia), Voz de Galicia (Galicia), El Periodicio (Catalonia), El Correo (Basque Country) and La Nueva Espana (Asturias). Gaining readers were Heraldo de Aragon (Saragossa) and Ultima Hora (Balearic Islands).

Readership losses, quite logically, signal big publishers to cut costs. El Pais publisher Grupo Prisa closed its Barcelona printing plant in 2012 and announced in November it will close the Madrid Pressprint printing plant, contracting print output to Grupo Vocento’s Rotomadrid plant. Grupo Prisa also owns AS and Cinco Dias. Unidad Editorial, publisher of El Mundo, Marca and Expansion, posted a net operating profit for the first three quarters of 2017, though revenues were 6.9% lower, reported media new portal (November 11). The publisher, which is principally owned by RCS Media Group, credited a 13% cut in operating expenses. It has cut half its editorial staff in a decade.

National daily ABC publisher Grupo Vocento reported a slight financial improvement after the first nine months of 2017, said El Espanol (November 7). Losses have been reduced to €4.8 million compared to €7.7 million one year on. Ad revenues were off 1.5%, digital advertising not quite offsetting lower print advertising. Grupo Vocento also publishes several regional dailies, including El Correo. ABC itself reported a net operating loss of €7.5 million on 4.3% revenue loss. In October the newspaper proposed - subject to union negotiation - dropping the annual employee Christmas bonus to be followed by salary reductions for 2018 of 18%.

With print advertising in decline and digital advertising stalled, Grupo Vocento has been experimenting with the scary world of online subscriptions with regional titles, notably El Correo, reported El Espanol (December 10). “The problem is that no large traditional (publisher)…dares to take the step, arguing that the market is not mature and that no model in the world has proven its effectiveness.” Spanish media watchers - mostly aligned with tradition - look askance at US and UK publishing models, from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to the Guardian, and digital “pure-play” models like Vice and BuzzFeed as far too frightening.

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