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Monday 4 April 2011

Express Departure – From The Stage?

There have been rumours going the rounds for some weeks now that Richard Desmond is “considering his options” on the future of his print titles – that’s the Express and Star newspapers and OK! Magazine, for starters. All are apparently profitable, despite the steady loss of readership, but if today’s Maily Telegraph is to be believed, Desmond is talking to the owners of the Daily Mail about a merger.

On the face of it, this looks far-fetched: the Daily Mail left the Express behind in the circulation war long ago, and now outsells it by well over three to one. The Daily Star titles are so downmarket that they would fit better with the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, but then, Rupe and Junior’s top tab is also well out of sight in the sales stakes.

What future for the Westferry presses?

But Desmond, as CJ might have reminded Reggie Perrin, did not get where he is today without knowing when the time was right to sell up and move on. The Express and Star may be profitable, but this has come at the price of cutting staff to a level where, as Richard Peppiatt revealed when he very publicly resigned from the paper recently, the Star now has only one staff reporter outside London.

Moreover, as this blog has shown, much of the Express’ content comes from the previous day’s editions of other papers. Much also comes from reheated press releases, or depends on rent-a-quote lobby groups and politicians. The amount of advertising on the Express website has reached saturation – and maybe desperation – point.

The last straw for Desmond may be the potential perfect storm: falling circulation, falling advertising revenues, and the end of the road for cutting staff costs. It’s possible that the last of these has already occurred, and advertising income will surely fall as circulation declines.

And, as I noted the other day, the Daily Express lost 7.33% of readers in the year to February 2011, with the Daily Star losing a more worrying 10.62%. Worst of all was the loss of sales by OK! Magazine in the second half of 2010 – 23.4%. Desmond may have done his sums and concluded that he would be best to get out while the going is still good.

If Des really is getting out of the newspaper business, look for the Express titles to go first and be swallowed up by the Mail, with the Daily Star ones remaining for a few months longer before either Sun or Mirror takes them on. And the hacks? As if Des will be fussed: there’s only one beneficiary where he’s concerned.

More and bigger paydays for Des personally now? That’ll be another Benchmark Of Excellence.

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