Newspapers and the Joint Sell

Newspapers in the UK have had a good war; sales were reportedly up by about 20% at the height of the Brexit debate which rather gives the lie to those believing there is no role for the printed medium in this digital age. Unfortunately for newspapers, but very fortunately for the rest of us Brexit debates don’t come along all that often.

Maybe because these events are rare, a number of newspapers are rumoured to be considering the benefits of huddling together for warmth in some sort of joint sales organisation.

‘Campaign’ reported on this and duly asked respected commentators for their views. Three of those asked said they thought a joint sell was a good idea, one (the wise Colin Gottlieb of OMG) was a ‘maybe’ describing such an idea as ‘timid’.

I’m with Colin.

If newspapers have one (big) thing going for them it’s their diversity and the variety of contexts they offer to advertisers. Bringing everything together and reducing it all to a set of lowest common denominator numbers risks losing the light and shade, quite apart from playing the main newspaper bogeymen, Google and Facebook at their own game.

Don’t let’s forget we’ve sort-of been here before.

In 2013 a joint newspaper initiative called PATS, or Publisher Advertising Transaction System was announced with a fanfare:

This should have worked – after all what was being proposed was “a ‘technology bridge’ between agency and publisher systems, providing real-time information on all platforms to the parties in an advertising transaction”.

The main supporters were The Guardian, The Mail, The Telegraph, News UK, The Evening Standard & Independent and Trinity Mirror. Many of the large agencies contributed to the system’s design.

It was going to be launched in 2015.

If that happened I missed it.

I have to admit to some cynicism when it comes to publishers collaborating with their closest rivals, even if in a common cause. After all PATS, which seemed like both a good idea and a pretty non-contentious one supported by all hasn’t as far as I know yet appeared.

There are mutterings about the inconclusive start made by Pangeia (The Guardian-backed collective); and La Place (the French collective) has I understand been reduced in scope to a commoditised RTB system from the grand plan of handling all of its member newspapers’ digital transactions.

Then there’s News UK. Unlike the others, News UK has a considerable interest in a highly successful TV operation, and has just bought a radio business TalkSPORT. Rebekah Brooks no less has referred to a ‘strong cross-platform sell’.

Back in April News UK renamed its commercial arm ‘The Bridge’ and talked of data being key to its sell. Sky has a lot of data, and it would indeed be odd if combining data sets had not occurred to both sets of managements.

Without News UK who seem embarked on the promising route of a print, radio, TV collaboration of their own, any newspaper joint sell looks sadly like a coalition of the timid.


  1. Even in these straightened times the natural antipathy between the different publishers renders this notion a dead duck. ‘Timid’ is a good word – think of a GB football team: skill but no innate passion.

  2. Brian: how does a joint sales operation impact the variety and diversity of contexts that nesspapers deliver, as you point out? Such a sales operation does not alter the journalistic independence of participating papers, right? Or am I missing something?

  3. Hi Brian,

    I’m sorry to say that you did indeed miss it – there was no big announcement but PATS has been progressing just nicely behind the scenes. It launched at the end of 2015 with all of Newsworks’ stakeholder publishers using it and the integration into the agency systems continues. The next stage of the plan is to widen its use beyond Newsworks’ national newspaper titles to other publishers such as regional titles and magazines. If you want to know more detail, we’d be happy to tell you more about it.

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