Desperate measures: closing The Observer
Let’s hope it is the nuclear option and it does not come to Guardian Media Group having to close The Observer newspaper. It would be tragic loss and would lead many people to have few options on a Sunday.
Guardian Media Group chief executive, Carolyn McCall, has confirmed in a memo that executives are looking at all options to cut growing losses, including closing The Observer, to ensure the future of The Guardian. As that’s what the Scott Trust is in business to do.
GMG will have to make some really tough choices. Advertising revenues are falling and it looks like these will not return to pre-downturn levels. The Guardian Media Group has losses in the 12 months to March of £90m. Those are serious losses and require serious action. A smattering of job cuts and merging web operations of the Guardian and The Observer clearly do not go far enough in addressing the scale of the problem. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
The Observer might sell 409,000 plus copies, but its circulation is falling and there are no signs that its decline will be arrested. This is not a market where we are going to see sustained rises in newspaper circulation that are anything more than quick hits based on short term promotions or news cycles.
So what to do? People don’t often close newspapers, but it happens that it just hasn’t happened for a long while.
If you do a search or think back there is a veritable pile of dead papers filling the bins of prosperity. The News on Sunday, Eddie Shah’s Today and The Post, London Daily News, The Sunday Correspondent and Sunday Business. Admittedly some of those did not last very long and certainly have not
been in continuous publication since the latter part of the 18th
In the current downturn, more pertinent (if smaller in circulation) are names like the Christian Science Monitor, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News, which have all gone in the US while others teeter on the brink. There are many other smaller titles that have also folded, but what is important here is that at no other time in post-war history have so many newspapers fallen so quickly.
If The Observer went it would be the biggest casualty in terms of circulation so far. It is also arguable a more important newspaper than many of those mentioned above. More than that it is a good newspaper (are there still great newspapers?) and to lose it would leave few choices of an alternative come Sunday.
The Independent on Sunday is so poor that it hardly bears mentioning. It has been deserted by so many of its once loyal readers. Its circulation is down 2.98% month on month to 162,474.
No Guardian reader will be reading the Sunday Telegraph so that only leaves The Sunday Times or not buying a paper at all.
An option also on the table is a slimmed down version of the Observer. I’m not basing this on any research, I’m shooting my keyboard off, but when it comes to Sunday newspapers there is a reasonable amount that I can live without.
The question if you are Carolyn McCall, Alan Rushbridger and the gang is what would readers happily live without, but continue to buy The Observer.
The staples of any Sunday newspaper are news (from home/foreign/business), sport, culture and a magazine. The rest is up for debate. If my copy of the Observer suddenly came sans personal finance, travel and seven day TV listings I would not be unhappy. I would still buy the paper. Even slimmed down, and with the Guardian behind it, the title would be better than the limp and exhausted Independent on Sunday.
Turning some of these weekly supplements into monthly supplements might be an option. Rotating these non-core sections in the same way that Guardian News & Media currently does with its Sport, Music, Food and Women magazines (all excellent) might be an option as would axing or combining one or more of those magazines.
The option of turning the paper into a weekly magazine seems like some kind of after thought in an effort to keep the brand alive. I’m not sure about that option. The effort should be, where reasonably possible, to keep the Observer going.
If it closes then I would rather see some of those elements of the paper transferred to the Saturday Guardian. It is already a powerful package, but making Saturday even stronger would not only prop up the Saturday paper, but it would probably eliminate the need to buy a paper on Sunday should The Observer no longer published. Fingers crossed that this is not the case.