Private Eye editor Ian Hislop
Even though today’s reader wants to find the latest headlines immediately with just a click of a button, Britain’s satirical newspaper Private Eye has stuck by the phrase “hot off the press” for 50 years. The newspaper doesn’t publish online — if you want to read its content, you have to buy the paper.

The paper does have a website (private-eye.co.uk), but to read full stories from the latest issue, readers have to buy it at a newsstand or sign up for a subscription.

Editor Ian Hislop recently appeared before the Leveson Inquiry, the British government investigation into the press following the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid. Hislop told the inquiry team he thought newspaper companies were crazy to give away their products for free on the Web.

“I can’t see why journalism, which at its best is a noble craft, should be given away,” he said.

Wall Street Journal
columnist Brett Arends followed up on Hislop’s comments. Hislop, who has been editor of Private Eye since 1986, said that during the late 1990s, when everyone was rushing to get on the Internet, he decided it was all madness. “Everyone was putting stuff up on the Internet. Everyone said, ‘You’ve got to get (the Eye) up there, you’ve got to get it out there, everyone wants everything for free.’ I just couldn’t understand how it would work,” he said.

Hislop said he was skeptical of the business model from the beginning, and others in the industry warned him he would lose readers. But when Arends checked with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, he found that the complete opposite was true.

According to ABC, 10 years ago, the Eye had average yearly sales of 176,000 copies. Last year, the paper saw a 17 percent increase to 206,000 copies. All but 2,000 of those copies were fully paid sales either from the newsstand or through subscriptions. During the past 10 years, the Eye has also increased its cover price by 50 percent, and its recent special 50th anniversary issue sold at an all-time record of nearly 268,000 copies.

While many other papers are seeing a drop in circulation and revenue, Arends said the Eye has kept itself “distinctive and valuable” with its spoof news stories, humorous cartoons, political gossip, and old-school investigative reporting.

The Eye is published every two weeks, and Arends said the paper is considered required reading for higher- end consumers. “The Eye has also succeeded because, quite simply, it has refused to devalue itself by giving its product away for free,” he said.

Hislop offered this advice: “Don’t give the stuff away. The industry’s going to die if you don’t believe in it.”

Comments

re: The Future of Print Is … Print

cathlyn | Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I agree. You have to believe in your industry to keep it alive. If you believe in print, go ahead and use it. Create the best printed materials; personalize your approach; and let your identity reflect on each printed material. There is, after all, a future in print as illustrated in an infographic in http://smallbusiness.printplace.com/2012/10/04/future-of-advertising-infographic/.

Yes. But not exactly a blueprint for all papers

Arik Jones | Wednesday, April 4, 2012

@Sean, I totally agree. But I think Private Eye has a unique opportunity to bolster a pay-wall. Obviously people enjoy their content and their growth signifies that their demographic is widening. People are going out of their way to BUY their product. Why not allow people to buy it on the web as well while offering a really top-notch reading experience.

Hmmm!

Scott Winn | Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kudo's for keeping Private Eye's brand integrity strong, but I highly recommend adding an online version with a pay-wall. It would be a shame to see Private Eye go under because of failure to evolve to the future preferred platform. 17% growth is pretty insignificant when most newspapers increased audience readership over 300% over the last 15 years. Unfortunately, we're just beginning to monetize it.
The message isn't lost from the article as many newspapers have devalued their content by giving it all away for free online. You need a strong brand of quality journalism in order to charge customers to read it.

You get what you pay for

Sean | Monday, March 19, 2012

Too bad newspapers forgot that they needed to make money and decided to give away the farm 15 years ago. It was a huge mistake that will be almost impossible to take back.

Newspaper?

john q public | Monday, March 19, 2012

Private Eye is not a newspaper, it's a magazine printed as cheaply as possible. It fills a niche, decent cartoons, prints stuff other journalists are afraid of due to libel laws. It hasn't changed since the 1970s. Nothing remotely equivalent in the USA. There's nothing to be learned from it except keep your cover price low and do something no one else is doing.

The power of print

Robert Barrows | Monday, March 19, 2012

To see how powerful the print medium really is, just see what happens if some newspaper says something bad about you. It will seem like everyone in the world read that article.

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