At the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit 2012, Highfield says he will not introduce a paywall at Johnston Press. He plans for Johnston Press’s 255 titles to derive 20% to 25% of advertising revenue from digital within three years. Currently 5% of total income comes from digital.
The danger with content behind a paywall as News International did is that it is not indexed [on internet search engines such as Google], you then fall off the social graph and then no one cares what The Times says. It can be a spiral, a dangerous place to end up. Regional [newspapers] are about community, engaging with communities, and you have to be by and large free to do that. It is interesting but nothing we are about to follow soon.
Highfield is also launching a combination of paid-for iPad apps and 140 free mobile phone apps, such as the Scotsman at £7.99/month, to drive revenue and readership for its regional papers. The mobile apps have added 2 million new unique users, boosting the publisher’s total digital audience to 10 million. Highfield also says that he can see new models such as “newspaper first to digital first” and perhaps by 2020, “digital daily, print weekly”.
We need to make a digital transition, we need to do it and need to do it quickly. But this is not a panic situation. I don’t believe in a glide path to oblivion, but I’m not saying we don’t have to grasp the nettle. [Regional newspapers] are social, local and mobile but we just haven’t claimed that territory. It is going to be hard but there is survival.