Time for more Times

This article first appeared in Village magazine, June 2017 edition

Launching a new newspaper is a tricky proposition at the best of times, but in the middle of historic declines in print circulation, as titles struggle to manage the transition to digital first publication, it seems downright bloody-minded. Yet that’s what News UK’s Dublin outlet has decided to do, with a daily print product following the model of the Sunday Times.

Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of The Sunday Times and Richard Oakley, editor of the Ireland edition of The Times

While the Sunday Times has been producing an Irish edition for several years, print readers have had to settle for the international edition of The Times since the 1990s, when an Irish version of the paper was printed by the Examiner. But in September 2015, a daily digital Irish edition was launched, building on the back of the Sunday paper, with “editions” available for download to phone and tablets.

But the newspaper market has changed drastically since the 1990s, both in Ireland and internationally, and the internet, then a novelty, is eating news. In the last decade in particular, the internet has moved off desktops and into everyone’s pockets with the introduction of smartphone technology, at the same time that advertising revenues were scaled back due to the Great Recession.

In this environment, where most titles have lost up to half their peak circulation at the eight of the boom, launching a new title might seem downright reckless. But Richard Oakley, editor of the Ireland edition of The Times, thinks they have identified a gap in the market.

“Our reader is someone interested in quality, they have a broad outlook,” says Oakley. “The Times is for people who want news at fixed times. We’re not pandering to the breaking news agenda. Our readers are not slaves to breaking news.”

“We’re well suited to business people, people with an interest in sport, people who want quality reading on politics and a worldview. We are more outward looking than any Irish paper, we have an office in London, correspondents around the world.

“We feel there isn’t a newspaper like this in the marketplace at the moment, with strong coverage of things like Brexit and Trump from people on the ground, from the number of correspondents on the ground.”

“We’ve been printing the international edition in Ireland, and we looked at that and asked ourselves, why not add our Ireland content into that newspaper, along with UK and international content, producing an Ireland edition in print to go along with the digital edition.”

The new Irish print edition will however involve more than simply adding existing Irish digital output to the international edition. The online product required about 20 to 25 articles per day, while the print product could require up to twice that number.

Paradoxically, this may actually serve to increase subscriptions to the online edition, since it now offers an expanded product because of the needs of the print newspaper. The print launch may also have another promotional effect, whether unintended or not. Morning Ireland’s “It Says in The Papers” segment does not as a rule include the stories broken by the digital Times Ireland edition, something that may change when the reviewers have a physical copy of a paper to peruse.

“Roughly the first seven pages will be Irish, then Irish opinion and Irish sports spreads, plus six to eight Irish business stories,” says Oakley. “It will take a similar shape to the digital edition, with an Irish splash unless there’s a massive international story, then Irish news, UK news, world news, and with Irish sports, business, opinion sections.”

News UK won’t discuss their circulation or revenue targets for the newspaper, so it’s not straightforward defining what might be considered a success. The Times international edition manages less than 3,000 copies daily, on par with the other English titles, the Guardian, Express, Telegraph and the Financial Times. By contrast, the English titles creating dedicated Irish content, the Mirror, Daily Mail, and the Sun, as well as the Irish Daily Star, jointly owned by Irish News & Media, manage between 30-60,000 copies daily.

The Examiner, the lowest performing domestic daily title, also hovers at the 30,000 circulation mark, ten times the circulation of the Times international edition. Catching up with the Examiner might seem an ambitious project for the new daily Times Ireland Edition – and it certainly isn’t one that could be achieved overnight – but it does provide some benchmark for what might be possible. But even if the print edition does manage to capture advertising revenues not available to the digital edition through supplements, inserts and other features, this is still an ambitious and high risk product launch in a market facing long-term decline.