When Wilmington announced yesterday that it was closing Press Gazette permanently, quite a few of my colleagues blogged about how sad they felt at its demise. Dave Lee, Alison Gow, Kristine Lowe and even Roy Greenslade all wrote at length about what PG had meant to them and why it would be missed.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I’m not that bothered. Yes, PG’s passing is a reflection on the parlous state of the media right now. With papers and magazines closing down in increasing numbers and those still going slashing their staff, it’s no great surprise that Press Gazette has gone the same way. With fewer journalists around, that means fewer readers.
But Wilmington must have been mad to think last summer that turning PG from a weekly to a monthly would help it survive. The huge mistakes it made included firstly, withdrawing newsstand availability and turning it into a subscription-only publication, at a stroke making it less easy for those in the industry to pick up a copy, and secondly, not adjusting the subscription level. As a weekly, PG cost around £115 a year, working out at around £2.70 a copy (I’m doing these figures off the top of my head so they are very rough). It was pretty good value at that price – lots of news, some great features (especially The Knowledge section, aimed at freelances), plus industry gossip.
As a monthly, it became too expensive – the subscription remained the same, so the cover price suddenly became nearly £10. Granted there were more pages, but the two copies I saw were not special enough to justify the price. Why Wilmington failed to offer more subscription options I’ll never understand. Most journalists, especially those on consumer magazines and regional/local papers, are on low salaries and forking out £115 in one go was probably beyond most of them. Offering a 3 or 6-month subscription and cutting the price might have attracted more readers.
Me, I decided to cut my losses. I cancelled my subscription almost immediately after the announcement that PG would go monthly. (And I was mighty pissed off that it took me nearly 12 weeks to get my money back from Wilmington, but that’s another story.) I’ve never regretted it – I kept up with PG’s news feed on RSS and Twitter, but my honest view is that much of PG’s breaking news was also available on the Media Guardian, Journalism.co.uk and Hold the Front Page websites and feeds.
Press Gazette became a publication that no longer had much to distinguish it from the competition, and that’s why I can’t shed a tear at its loss.
I’m sorry the staff are going to lose their jobs, of course I am. And I still believe there is room for a dedicated industry publication in print format. But it was never going to be PG in the form it’s had since last September. I’ll be interested to see what, if anything, happens next – will someone buy it? Will a new publication launch to fill the gap? Or will Media Guardian and co expand their existing coverage to include more features, particularly on freelancing?