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The Guardian Might Stop Being a Printed Paper

Colin Morrison, writing at ‘Flashes & Flames’:

The Guardian, which has arguably become the world’s most sophisticated digital news operation, may be contemplating an end to its printed newspapers. That may have been signalled by the recent decision to cut 180 jobs (or 12% of its UK workforce) as a result of Covid.

But, tellingly, newsstand print sales, at £49.3m, were 50% down compared with 2016. Last year, print accounted for 42% of revenue (£94 million) and an estimated £75 million of production, distribution and marketing costs. So, the printed newspaper may last year have delivered almost £20m of real profit. But now Covid is pushing it into losses from which it may not be able to recover – without dramatic change.

Interesting and unsurprising to learn that Saturday is (was?) its biggest day for print sales:

Like most UK national newspapers, The Guardian has been highly profitable on Saturdays because of higher prices and sales volumes. Pre-Covid, The Guardian had been selling 100,000 copies at £2.20 on weeekdays. But, on a Saturday, it was selling 246,000 copies at £3.20 – and with more advertising revenue too.

After our local newsagent stopped delivering the Saturday Guardian, we went out and bought it most weeks… until Covid and the lockdown. We haven’t bought it since, probably, March. But we do pay online, as supporters and subscribers.

I don’t think I’d mind that much if it went digital-only, though it would be the end of an era. You’d think they could keep just the Saturday edition, but:

The management may already have concluded that any plan to print a newspaper only on certain days (including the weekend) will not be viable. Much of the experience (especially of the Newhouse family’s Advance newspaper group in the US) seems to show that reducing the daily frequency seldom works: once the daily habit is broken, newspaper buyers quickly seem to stop buying the paper altogether. A consolation print option could be the expansion of the 101-year-old news magazine Guardian Weekly which claims readers in more than 170 countries.

I’d guess they’ll maybe keep The Observer going for a while: Sunday papers have their own distinct identities.

The contrast with digital could not be greater. The Guardian has 160 million monthly uniques across the world, some 25% in the UK. More striking, though, are those digital editions in North America and Australia/New Zealand which, respectively, have advertising revenue of £25 million and £11 million. These are now strong operations, evidenced by Australia where The Guardian is the fourth largest online news service with an audience of 11.6 million (more than 50% of the adult population) – ahead of News Corp’s national daily, The Australian.

Good to know it’s beating Murdoch on his home turf.

Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab describes The Guardian as “a weird newspaper” because: it has nearly two-thirds of its readers coming from outside its own country; started in one city and moved to another; and is owned by a trust that mandates it promotes liberal journalism in Britain and elsewhere.

A weird newspaper”: works for me.

Damned noisy round here today. At the front we’re getting scaffolding put up, for our solar panels to get installed tomorrow. Out the back it’s all strimmers, drills, other people’s scaffolding, and I don’t know what all. It used to be quiet!

People Still Aren’t Getting It

I got back on the bike today. First time since I came off back in April. Both because I felt the need to add some variety to my exercise regime, and because so many people are riding these days. And also because I missed it.

It was good. Nice to be back on the bike. A bit annoying the way the mask makes your glasses steam up, but nothing that a bit of slipstream couldn’t clear.

But it was very disappointing regarding people’s behaviour. I cycled around central Hackney for half an hour or so from about 9-9:30. It was pretty busy.

I counted 11 people wearing masks (and two chin-wearers, so they don’t count). I must have passed about 500 people? 700? That’s just a guess, but it was a lot.

Eleven masks.

My mask was protecting all of them: why weren’t they protecting me, and each other?

I mainly blame the government, of course. Incoherent messaging and absence of care. But… some of us have learned what’s best, even given the government.

Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate by Robin Sloan (Books 2020, 20)

My 2020 reading reaches 20, which is pleasing. And with another novella, which is something of a theme.

I read Sloan’s Sourdough a couple of years back, and only thought it was OK, but I still get his newsletter, which is where I learned about this. It was originally serialised in a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper,1 and published via an interesting experiment with online writing, and a new software package for publishing books on the web.

That said, I read it on my Kindle.

It’s good. Lots of fun, even if you don’t know the Bay Area. A detective and her assistant try to stop multiple timelines being crashed together. But it starts with burritos. What’s not to like?

One unusual thing is that the assistant, who is also the narrator (a veritable Doyle, though not as useful) never has any quoted speech. You’ll get an exchange like this:

I wondered if Scheme had worked up any theories.

“Sure. Most likely explanation is, Stella Pajunas was never real to start with. Ectoplasmic projection. Mass hallucination, maybe.”

Scheme was theorizing that the ABCD—really, the whole Bay Area—had been managed for ten years by a mass hallucination?

“It would explain some things, wouldn’t it?

A piece of narration is answered by the other character. The implication is that the narrator said it. I don’t recall ever seeing this in fiction, but it is used in some interviews. It used to be the norm in the NME back when I read it. In interviews, I much prefer that technique to the purely transcriptional approach, which can look like a play script at times. As to using it in fiction, it works well enough here, in such a short work, but I think it would get wearing at greater length.

Anyway, you can read it for free, so you might as well.

  1. Or two, as it turns out.