The Express group presented a different challenge. By 2000, the starry Beaverbrook years were long gone and the circulation was in steep decline – it was hard to see how the papers could be reinvented to capture new markets in what turned out to be the newspaper industry’s last fling. But with ruthless cost cutting, Desmond has wrung a profit from his shrinking assets. Rather than trying to build sales, he has simply accepted that his papers are on their way out and that, in the medium term, the road to profit lies in them surrendering to their fate. So no circulation stunts, no giveaways, no increased coverage of this or that: the Desmond recipe for success at the Express is to reinforce its ageing readers’ opinions, and give them occasional hope of increased mobility and pain relief with frequent front-page splashes that promise cures for arthritis. “Affirmation rather than information” is his motto. And affirmation comes cheap.
That’s a very sensible economic response. Sweat the assets of a dying industry for what they can be sweated for.
Note that I’m not talking about the content at all, his opinions, the editorial line or anything. Just the basic economics of it. There’s good profits to be had out of carefully managing a declining industry. Especially if you can buy in at a valuation that assumes you’re going to invest to expand it, or at least keep it going, and then you don’t do that.
Wonder how much one might be able to make by buying one of the venerable publishers and then stripping it right back to only the backlist, no new publications at all……you’d strip out nearly all of the costs overnight and have another few decades of that backlist as income.