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The newspaper business has never been simple, but its dual business model has typically been straightforward: on the one hand, compile news and information for which readers pay in time and/or money, and then, on the other hand, also sell their attention on to advertisers looking to connect with customers. Through the 20th century that approach proved pretty robust and, in the main, profits flowed like ink with leading UK regional newspapers routinely posting 30 per cent margins. No longer. The industry’s health, under pressure since advertising share started slipping in 2005 (Kirwan, 2009), continued to worsen into 2012. Circulation, advertising revenues and profit margins all fell taking staff numbers and even entire operations down with them.
The prognosis is grim and the prescribed remedies are sometimes drastic. Speaking to a media convention in 2008, then UK culture secretary Andy Burnham was blunt:
The old media world has ended and the sooner we say so the better. With it must go old thinking. But the difficulty we all have is this: it doesn’t yet feel like an era of new possibility, and change we can all believe in, but one of threat and decline. My main message today is: we need to break out of this thinking and we can*but only if we look beyond our own backyards and see the bigger picture. (2009, p. 1)
That UK regional newspapers need to look beyond their ‘‘backyards’’ and consider new ways of thinking about their business models has been clear for some time. That they also intend to do so is suggested by the upbeat headline to the news release announcing the Newspaper Society’s annual report for 2008_9: ‘‘Local Newspapers Evolving into Successful Multimedia Businesses’’ (Newspaper Society, 2009). Just how they have gone about that and to what extent these activities could be considered indicators of a ‘‘new way of thinking’’ is the key theme of this case study of new business models for the regional press, which is a key area of interest to those concerned with sustainable societies, in general, and to NEMODE, in particular.