The owner of the Daily Mail, the i and Metro said that print advertising revenues for its portfolio of titles plunged by 70% in April and May as the coronavirus lockdown hammered the newspaper industry.
Daily Mail & and General Trust, which also owns Mail Online and the Mail on Sunday, said that total revenues across its consumer media division were down by a third in April. In April, DMGT said circulation revenues fell by 17%, with total advertising revenue down 46% – with print ads down 69% and digital advertising falling 16%.
It fared little better in the first four weeks of this month, to 24 May, with total revenues down 30%. The decline in circulation revenues has improved to a 9% fall, with total advertising revenue down 45%. Print advertising remains down 70%, with digital advertising falling 17%.
Newspaper publishers have benefited from record digital audiences as readers crave news on the coronavirus. However, with businesses shut down and many advertisers keen to steer clear of running promotions around content relating to the pandemic, publishers have failed to reap the benefits of an ad boost.
DMGT said that it has been encouraged by print retail circulation volumes of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the i increasing each week since 5 April. The freesheet Metro’s circulation is running at about a quarter of its usual levels as the nation remains on lockdown and its commuter readers stay at home.
“At this stage it is too early to assess the extent to which readership habits may permanently change once lockdown measures are lifted completely,” the company said. “The board remains confident, however, that high levels of reader engagement will help to support revenue recovery in time.”
Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.
How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.
Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?
This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.
Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.
Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.
What are experts worried about?
Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.
The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.
In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry right now is that with a vaccine still months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.
DMGT said that for the half-year to the end of March the company’s pre-tax profits fell by 44%, from £100m to £56m, as group revenues dropped by 5%, to £690m.
Despite the tough trading conditions, the company, which has also cancelled or postponed all events and exhibitions through to the end of August and expects to extend this to September, increased its interim dividend payout to investors. Many companies have suspended or scrapped dividends to shore up their balance sheets to weather the fallout of the coronavirus.
“DMGT delivered a solid performance in the first half of the year, reflecting a strong first five months of trading followed by one month of weakness due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Paul Zwillenberg, the chief executive of DMGT. “Since February, we have moved quickly to protect our stakeholders and actively support our portfolio of businesses. Our consumer media, property information and events and exhibitions have been significantly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.”
Revenues at its UK property information business were down 44% in April.
Print sales for the UK’s biggest national newspapers slumped by as much as 39% last month as the coronavirus lockdown resulted in the shutting of high streets and keeping the nation at home.
Last month DMGT decided against furloughing any of the 2,400 staff at its publishing operation, instead asking employees to take a temporary pay cut in return for shares in the company. At the end of the year they will be able to cash in the shares and if the price has dropped the company will make up the difference, or they can hold on to the shares as an investment.