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Londonpaper Closure: Murdoch Has Lost Faith In Free

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Thelondonpaper‘s launch team, led by former Campaign editor Stefano Hatfield, flew to New York in 2006 to convince Rupert Murdoch and his executives that the plan would work: easy-going, care-free news for young professionals to flick through on the Tube back to Hampstead, Clapham and Shepherds Bush. A captive audience of childless, 18-26-year-old ABC1 consumers with spending power and free time.

But Murdoch’s decision to axe that paper today shows just how much the axis of publishing has shifted: just as proprietors are growing weary of readers enjoying their online news for free, there is not nearly the same confidence in the free print model there was three years ago and publishers are reverting to ways of maximising user revenue in all media instead of giving it away for nothing. And, more fundamentally for News International, London’s free newspaper war was just costing too much…

The closure shows that NI only wants premium, sellable, valuable content-making businesses on its books. Some of is other titles are loss-making, sure: The Times is reported to have lost £42 million in 2008-9 on its own. But those “core” titles have content punters just might pay for — could anyone imagine paying for stories from thelondonpaper, which is as often seen trodden into pavements and stuffed down bus seats as in someone’s hands? Rupert didn’t make any distinctions in his recent paid content war cry it: News Corp.’s mission is to “increase our revenues from all our content”. So Murdoch’s message is – if it’s not worth paying for, it’s not worth keeping.

The other side to this is NI’s losses: the country’s biggest national newspaper publisher, cannot sustain that much more. A £12.9 million loss in 2008-9 for the thelondonpaper is not small change. Given its turnover of £14.1 million in the same period, it does give the impression it was a black hole of cash, eating away at resources but contributing no bottom line.

It’s worth remembering that News Corp.’s print media made profits of just $7 million (£4.6 million) in the three months to March 31, compared to $216 million (£146.7 million) a year ago. The strategic review that recommended axing thelondonpaper has seen NI offload pre-recession acquisitions and assets including News Magazines and Propertyfinder Group.