Rupert Murdoch has blinked first in London’s unprofitable free evening newspaper war and decided to shut News International’s thelondonpaper. Thelondonpaper.com is also shutting and paidContent:UK understands there are no plans to continue publishing the brand online. The title lost £12.9 million in the year to June 29 — despite revenue of £14.1 million — and as part of its on-going strategic review NI has decided that enough is enough.
The title was launched with Murdoch’s blessing in 2006 — shortly after Associated Newspapers had rushed out its own London Lite — but lost £16.5 million in its first year. But the losses in 2008-9 can’t be put down to start-up costs: the business had little or no prospect of reaching profitability given the stormy publishing environment that developed since its launch. The paper’s 60 staff now begin a statutory 30-day redundancy consultation during which the paper will still be published. Its closure will mean half a million fewer newspapers circulating in London and a good deal fewer littering the city’s streets and Tube stations.
News Corp (NYSE: NWS) chair and CEO, Europe and Asia, James Murdoch says: “The performance of the business in a difficult free evening newspaper sector has fallen short of expectations. We have taken a tough decision that reflects our priorities as a business.” NI’s sell-off of its stake in Propertyfinder is part of the same drive to cut losses and focus on core brands.
So now DMGT’s Associated Newspapers has control of London free newspaper: the publisher owns London Lite as well as the national freesheet Metro (it sold the Evening Standard to Alexander Lebedev) and can now enjoy the diminished advertising market without thelondonpaper taking a share.
In contrast to its Associated rival, thelondonpaper has put considerable effort into its website, relaunching it as recently as last month using open-source software Drupal, with integrated Googlemap mash-ups and social networking elements through a deal with Pluck. So much for plans to roll out thelondonpaper model to other cities: in 2006 NI registered the URLs for sites in 10 further cities (via Press Gazette) — including thebrisolpaper, theyorkpaper and thecardiffpaper.
It looks like the closure came as something of a shock to some of the paper’s staff: digital head Saalim Chowdhury tells NMA today that the thelondonpaper.com is about to launch an open API of its content, just as Guardian.co.uk did this year. His comment that “these are early but very exciting days”, now comes loaded with bitter irony.