News publishers will regret failure of joint ad sales plan

Refusal to work together risks serious damage to the UK newspaper ad market.

Newshounds who want to relive the good old days of press will love Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of The Sun in 1969, running at London’s Almeida Theatre.

It was a time of clattering new upstarts in media, including Campaign, which made its debut in 1968.

News stories about the big newspaper groups dominated our front pages in those early days and, re-reading them, there’s a sense of dramatic change. As the Murdoch character in Ink puts it, describing his plan for The Sun to overtake the Daily Mirror, there was "a great disruption".

That was then. Now, the news business is going through another great disruption as our consumption moves online. It is why this print issue of Campaign is our last weekly edition, as we prepare to turn monthly.

There’s no point trying to rewind the clock and wishing things were the way they used to be. Yet that is what some newspaper groups appear to be doing.

A year ago, News UK, Telegraph Media Group, Guardian Media Group, DMGT and Trinity Mirror agreed to put their rivalries aside and discuss pooling their ad sales.

The initiative, now called Project Arena and previously known as Juno and Rio, was fraught with competition problems but had compelling logic.

Sharing ad sales and reader data would make the medium easier for advertisers to buy as revenues continue to rush out of print and into Google and Facebook.

Alas, one by one, DMGT, Trinity Mirror and now TMG have pulled out, leaving the initiative in limbo and agencies less than impressed.

What a shame that these press barons think they are still living in the age of Ink and are better off alone.

News UK and GMG are now looking to see if there is anything they can salvage. McKinsey acted as project consultant and is said to have made considerable progress, not least in identifying the need for urgent change.

Some say consolidation, not collaboration, is the way forward. Trinity Mirror’s plan for a joint venture with Express Newspapers is said to be close and could be a catalyst.

But refusal to work together risks serious damage to the UK newspaper ad market, which is already forecast to plunge another 11% this year, according to Group M. The UK contrasts with France, where publishers have just agreed to pool ad sales.

Back to Ink and Murdoch is certain about one thing. "The numbers are what matter," he says.

News publishers will regret turning their backs on joint ad sales.

Gideon Spanier is the head of media at Campaign.

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