Report: print supply chain challenges pose existential threat to newspaper publishing

UK regional newspapers' daily and weekly average circulation per issue
UK regional newspapers' daily and weekly average circulation per issue

A new report into the future for local news media has described the next three-to-five years as a critical period, with industrial print provision for newspapers “entering its final phase”.

The report, Signs of Local Life a New Phase for Local Media, was produced by Enders Analysis with the support of industry body the News Media Association.

It notes that despite many challenges and pitfalls affecting local community media publishers, “all is not lost”.

“An industry that saw a net loss of more than 270 titles between 2005 and 2022 is starting to see what sustainability could look like in the online era,” it stated.

“There is no silver bullet for success, but… there are clear themes.”

Last month Printweek revealed that large news groups could pool their print assets to deal more effectively with current and likely future printing requirements at a national level.

National World has just announced plans for automated print publishing as part of its digital only strategy. 

Regarding local titles, Enders Analysis stated: “This report considers the next three-to-five years to be a critical period for local media, as industrial print provision enters its final phase (print will continue indefinitely, but at a lower scale), during which businesses have to transform themselves into sustainable digital media.

“Many traditional businesses remain highly reliant on print for their profitability. High-profile large language models (LLMs) bring a nerve-racking balance of risks and rewards for local media, a future that publishers have ideas for, but limited investment capacity.”

It stated that challenges in terms of print supply had “cooled” since 2021, but “remain acute”.

“Challenges to the print supply chain pose a medium-term existential threat to the whole news publishing industry, and publishers that acquire paper and print for the industry – notably, but not exclusively, DMG Media, News UK and Reach – have been particularly, or were at least earlier, exposed,” Enders Analysis noted, while pointing to the consolidation of print sites that has already taken place.  

It called on government to step up support for the industry.

“Local media do unique things for society and local marketplaces. It is crucial the government installs the right support framework.

“But it is also crucial the industry constantly and convincingly reminds government, and the public, of the benefits those unique services secure – and, by inference, the far-reaching threats of inadvertently eschewing them.”

News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith commented: “This report makes very clear the increasing importance of trusted local journalism to our society in the age of AI, and the efforts publishers are making to find a truly sustainable future for local news through innovation.

“The next five years will be critical for the sector and the report makes some helpful recommendations for interventions to support local journalism, such as government and the private sector making much greater use of the sector as an advertising platform.”

The full report can be downloaded here.