The group publishes paid-for digital replicas for 41 of its titles, like Tavistock Times Gazette, and managing director Brian Doel tells me: “We’ve got another 60 to 70 free titles online which don’t have the same paywall. We are looking at the remainder of our paid papers to see whether or not to charge.
“There are various reasons they haven’t gone online in the same way – either they’re not on PageSuite or they’re not being produced in page-turning format. As each one comes up, we will look at it.”
Doel claims paid online subscribers “in the hundreds” for each title, and “in the thousands” across the group. The price – exactly what you’d pay in print – ie. £0.55 each, £6.95 a quarter, £13.95 for six months or £27.80 a year, in the case of the Tavistock Times Gazette.
That doesn’t seem to make good on the notion that digital, which eliminates print production and distribution costs, can be cheaper. But, Doel explains: “If somebody shifts from buying one copy at the newsagent to one copy online, it doesn’t save us anything to lose that copy because we offer the online edition. If we still do 25,000 copies, then we’re still going to be selling 25,000.
“Some people have booked up to a year of weekly newspapers. It’s easier for the public to understand. The fact we’ve got a hundred copies online dosn’t affect the circulation dramatically.”
So who’s paying? “We expected more subscriptions to come from expats,” Doel said. “We expected people wouldn’t buy the papers if they were locals. But, in fact, a good percentage – something like 25 percent of the subscriptions in each case – are local people.
“In one case, I asked a woman – she was a chiropodist – who said she subscribed online for the Tavistock Times Gazette. I said, ‘Have you stopped buying at the shop?’. She said she gets it delivered in print as well as online…
“She said the the Times has such a good classifieds section with items for sale that, if you don’t ring first thing in the morning, you miss the deals. ‘We go online at 2am in the morning and look at the classifieds before the paper arrives‘, she said.
“If newsprint ran out tomorrow, we would have the infrastructure in place to say ‘you can all get it online now’. But it turns out people are still very keen to buy a copy and sit and read it.”
Snowy weather rendered Tindle’s income “dreadful” but the small group has suffered less than larger publishers because most its advertisers are community businesses, Doel said: “It is down – but nowhere near as much as big regionals. The local driving schools, butchers and bakers have still got to advertise their services.”