'Difficult decade' for Scottish-based newspapers

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Magnus Llewellin
Image caption,
Magnus Llewellin said the internet "broke the business model" for newspapers

New circulation figures show Scotland's newspapers are continuing their long-running decline in print sales. Magnus Llewellin, Scottish editor of The Times, has told BBC Scotland about the pressures the industry faces.

While all of Scotland's home-based paid-for papers saw print sales fall in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures, The Times is one title that is bucking that trend, including its Scottish edition.

However, in the six months from July to January, it had fewer than 15,000 papers sold at full price, 8,400 bulk sales and 4,600 subscriptions.

The Scottish editor of The Times, Magnus Llewellin, told the BBC that the evidence showed those publishers that offered articles for free did not generate the income to invest in journalism.

Digital advertising

"The internet broke the business model," he said. "Many consumers of news now believe they should get their news for free.

"Many other titles have given away their content for nothing in the hope that digital advertising would come their way. It has to some extent, but not enough.

"If you give things away for nothing, it damages your product. You don't have the money coming in, and if the adverts are not there, the revenue decreases. There are ever-decreasing circles, the products weaken and people decide not to buy you any more."

Image source, Thinkstock

The Times editor said: "We think people should pay for copy, and we've seen year-on-year growth in subscriptions, digital and print as well."

Mr Llewellin was previously editor of The Herald group of titles in Glasgow. He is now reflecting on the pressure for more and more cost cuts.

"It's been a very difficult decade for the Scottish-based titles," he said. "The Herald is still trying to hold the line, but it's proving very difficult. There's a huge pressure on budgets and costs.

"The Scotsman's lumbered by big debts, which aren't the fault of the journalists there. The circulation is suffering a great deal, and we see an opportunity there.

"If we can produce quality content and market it well, which we do, then we can see people moving from these titles to buy us instead."

In candid comments about his experience of editing The Herald and working in The Scotsman group, he blamed shareholders "who want a return, year-in and year-out".

He added: "When they've been hit by the shock of the introduction of broadband and mobile devices, they still want their return. And it's hard for the proprietors to accept that money is declining. So it's meant some severe cost-cutting."

Mr Llewellin has forecasted that there will be fewer titles in five to 10 years' time, particularly affecting those that fail to invest.