Mediahuis Ireland, the parent company of several Irish newspapers including the Irish Independent, has announced that it will phase out daily print editions of its titles within the next decade. The company’s CEO, Peter Vandermeersch, stated that the move is part of its preparation for a transition from a hybrid model of print and digital titles to a purely digital future. Mediahuis Ireland also owns the Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Belfast Telegraph, The Kerryman, and other regional titles.
Vandermeersch confirmed that the company is preparing to become digital-only during the week, with the possibility of printing Saturday or Sunday editions or weekly products. He made these comments in an interview with RTÉ’s Justin McCarthy on the This Week programme. The CEO’s statements followed the company’s announcement last week that it was seeking voluntary redundancies among its national and regional titles as part of its digital future preparations.
When asked whether print publications have a future, Vandermeersch responded that the company had already sold its two printing plants and no longer owns a printing plant in Ireland. He added that this is a sign that print is not a strategic asset for the company. Vandermeersch acknowledged that newspapers have been read in print for three centuries, but he is not worried about print disappearing. His main concern is that journalism will disappear.
Mediahuis currently has 70,000 digital subscribers across its range of titles in Ireland and aims to reach 100,000 subscribers by 2025. Vandermeersch stated that this target is probably not ambitious enough. He believes that the company needs to gain 200,000 to 250,000 subscribers to replace the hundreds of thousands of customers who currently purchase a paper.
Vandermeersch expressed his greatest concern for the future of regional newspapers, citing the smaller scale of these publications. The Kerryman, for example, sells between 6,000 to 8,000 copies, while the Independent on a Saturday sells 100,000 copies. The CEO believes that the future of local papers is in danger and that Mediahuis needs to do what it has done in Belgium, where local journalism is found on national websites. For instance, news about Kerry, Dingle, Greystones, and other places can be found on the website of the Irish Independent.
The CEO also commented on the media industry’s mistake of giving away journalistic content for free. He called this the “original sin” and stated that the industry made this mistake between 2000 and 2005. Vandermeersch believes that the media should realise that it has something valuable to offer and that people are willing to pay for it. This is why Mediahuis has installed a paywall.
Vandermeersch also criticised RTÉ’s model, whereby the broadcaster is subsidised by taxpayers while carrying advertising and giving content away for free. He believes that this is unfair and that Mediahuis is fighting or in conflict with the RTÉs of the markets in which it operates. The CEO wants a level playing field and believes that it is not very fair that RTÉ receives subsidies, gets a part of the advertising market, and gives journalism away for free while Mediahuis has to do the same thing behind a paywall.
In summary, Mediahuis Ireland is preparing for a digital-only future during the week, with the possibility of printing weekend or weekly editions. The company aims to gain 200,000 to 250,000 subscribers to replace its current print customers. Vandermeersch is most worried about the future of regional newspapers and believes that local journalism should be found on national websites. He also thinks that the media industry made a mistake by giving away journalistic content for free and that RTÉ’s model is unfair.