Brave but counterintuitive: Paperboy ceases publication, media industry weighs in

Paperboy will not be hitting the streets as expected at the end of January, after Bauer announced it will cease publication of the magazine under its current print model.

The free, weekly Auckland magazine has been giving readers a weekly account of what’s happening in the city since November 2016 but in doing so has been unable to draw enough advertising revenue to cover expenses.

Managing director Brendon Hill tells StopPress that printing 100,000 copies a week is expensive but that’s not to say Paperboy won’t be making a comeback in the future.

“We’d love to do that, we think the brand really resonated with its audience and gained some good traction,” he says.

“… We might bring it back as a monthly or do special editions around big events or do special editions for advertising clients when launching new things and make it a content marketing model.”

Last year as the magazine celebrated its first birthday, editor Jeremy Hansen told StopPress it had been able to convey a sense of the life in the broader city, giving readers the information they needed to partake in the goings-on.

“The magazine we’ve been creating every week has generated so much enthusiasm,” Hansen said. “The most common response I get when meeting new people is that they feel better about Auckland as a result of reading it, which is exactly the result we wanted to generate.”

Further reiterating this point is the flurry of comments on Facebook expressing sadness over news that Paperboy would not be printing its next issue.

One reader commented: “I looked forward to reading Paperboy each week, it was a pleasure to read and clear that the writing staff were passionate about all the great parts of our beautiful city. I’d pay for a subscription model.”

Another commented: “This was the home of great stories about Auckland and Aucklanders. I will miss it very much indeed. What a shame.”

Bauer is now working with Hansen to determine his next move and Hill commends him for being an amazing editor who is part of the business’s heart and soul.

The seven editorial and five advertising staff working on the publication are going through the legal processes and Hill says there are internal opportunities for them.

As for the wider Bauer business, Hill says it will continue to innovate into 2018.

The commending of the Paperboy team continues when speaking to the wider media industry about its closing. 

Lassoo Media & PR managing director and former CEO of Tangible Media John Baker says Hansen and the team are to be congratulated, as is Bauer, for being brave enough to try something as ambitious as this and backing it as a journalistic product, not just a pay to play catalogue.

Baker believes the magazine was doing a good job for Auckland, however, does see there was a risk that it existed inside a creative bubble, that included agencies, and created a perception that it was perhaps bigger than it was.

“Over time it perhaps could have grown, but if it wasn’t delivering commercially for Bauer you have to respect their decision to kill it. Paul Dykzeul did say, at the time of launch, that it was a risk that if it didn’t pay, it wouldn’t last, so he has been true to his word.”

As an observer, Baker also questions the distribution model saying Auckland despite the growing use of public transport, doesn’t have a scale commuting culture to deliver the right audience numbers. Additionally, from his home in Grey Lynn, he says its letterbox delivery to inner city suburbs seemed inconsistent and the old tried and true bars and café network looked under-utilised.

Baker suggests the challenge of distribution and therefore reach could have been mitigated if Bauer had made the call to divert from its strategy of aggregation and build a dedicated digital platform for Paperboy.

Instead, Paperboy’s content sat alongside that of Listener, North & South, Metro on Noted.co.nz.

At the time of the website’s launch, head of digital strategy Cathy O’Sullivan told StopPress it addressed the issue of in-depth journalism being buried in a mass of media by creating another home for pieces produced for the print publications.

However, in this case, it appears Noted made Paperboy content difficult to find.

“It got lost in Noted and this seriously diluted its visibility, awareness and cache,” says Baker. “It is quite feasible that a less frequent physical street press could have worked combined with a lively and rich dedicated digital and social platform.”

In just over a year since its launch, Paperboy’s generated a Facebook following of 7,521 people.

MBM managing partner Matt Bale shares similar thoughts about Paperboy’s lack of online presence, saying that reliant on print only, with a little bit on Noted, seemed at odds with the primary readers they were looking to attract.

It’s here Bale points out international examples of free magazines Time Out and Stylist. Both have dedicated websites and strong social following, the former has 1,298,451 Facebook followers while the latter has 643,429 followers.

Last year, Stylist editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski featured in a Media Voices podcast talking about its use of multiple channels and said that it is platform specific. It thinks about how people engage with each platform differently and therefore reinterprets its content accordingly.

“What you want to read on our website or Facebook is probably quite different to the 2000-word article we’ve given to you in print.”

And that’s not to say people aren’t as interested in the print product. She refers to it as “badge media” because it says something about those who pick it up because those who don’t want to pick it up won’t.

“When did you last pick up something you did not want to pick up?” Smosarski said. “You do not find your hand troubled by something you don’t want to read.”

Not only has its lack of online presence generated interest in the industry, so has its timing. Tim Murphy, co-editor of Newsroom, calls Paperboy a counterintuitive product as it launched as a mass print product during a time of struggle to get advertising in print.

“It was one of those things that when they launched it, people either thought they’re mad or that they’ve got some particular genius that is secret to us all that we can’t see.”

He too credits the team for the quality of the editorial content that had developed a loyal audience but points out that given the magazine was free, there was never going to be a question of audience.

The question instead was always going to be in how it attracted advertisers and Murphy recalls noticing the difficulty it was having last year when a copy he was reading featured about four pages of ads in the entire near-40-page magazine.

While Murphy acknowledges that only included explicit ads and did not include content marketing pieces, he says it was a really small amount.

“No-one will be really critical of the idea, other than at the time, trying to get print advertising for a giveaway seemed like it was going to be really hard,” he says.

But not impossible as newspaper insert magazines demonstrate. Included in those are NZME’s Bite, Viva Canvas, Weekend and TimeOut which are distributed via newspaper subscriptions and retail. However, off the page they also have a presence across NZME’s online and on-air platforms, with TimeOut living online and on the radio, while Bite and Viva have dedicated websites.

NZME chief commercial officer Matt Headland says integrating its titles across all of its radio, print and digital platforms, enables it to build a very compelling story for customers which is why it continues to build meaningful commercial partnerships with its magazine titles.

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