Magazine article The Spectator

Whatever Happens, the Telegraph Must Not Seem to Be Edited in Washington

Magazine article The Spectator

Whatever Happens, the Telegraph Must Not Seem to Be Edited in Washington

Article excerpt

There seems scarcely to be a person alive who does not hope to acquire - or know someone who hopes to acquire - the Telegraph group in the coming year. The names of former Daily Telegraph editors and managing directors, and even one or two still on the payroll, are associated with this or that possible bid. The Barclay brothers, who own the Scotsman, are said to be making inquiries. The interest of the Daily Mail and General Trust and of Richard Desmond, owner of the Express group, is, of course, already well known. American publishers arc being cited, though none has so far said that it will make a bid.

What this tells us is that the Telegraph group is a highly desirable property. It was not always so. When Michael Hartwell ran out of money in 1985, there was no such list of wealthy suitors. Conrad Black, a Canadian businessman at that time unknown in this country, was able to acquire a majority shareholding at what seemed a knock-down price. Many critical things have been written about Lord Black over recent weeks, and will doubtless continue to be, but he can comfort himself with the thought that under his proprietorship the Telegraph group has prospered to the point where half the world wants to buy it.

It is also true that whoever acquires the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator (I write on the common assumption that these titles will be sold, though not necessarily en bloc) will almost certainly see them becoming more profitable over the coming years. The price war initiated by Rupert Murdoch and the Times has ended, and there is likely to be more scope for the Daily Telegraph to raise its cover price than there has been over recent years. There is also plenty of evidence that the advertising recession is beginning to lift as the world economy recovers, though whether we will quickly return to the heady days of the late 1990s remains to be seen. Finally there are the cost savings which any buyer will hope to make. The Telegraph group, for example, does not have to be housed in the relative luxury of Canary Wharf until the end of time. The subscription scheme, which enables loyal buyers to purchase the paper at too great a discount, can be tightened further. It is true that some investment is also needed - if advertising income is to be maximised there needs to be more colour capacity, and therefore new presses - but on balance there are still economies to be made, and possibly substantial ones.

A company which made not very far short of £40 million last year might therefore make significantly more money within a few years. This no doubt helps to explain why so many people are queueing up to buy it. But there are nonetheless questions over the long-term circulation trends of the Daily Telegraph which any prudent buyer will want to address. Though it remains the highest-selling quality newspaper in Europe, and among the top four or five in the world, it has lost a good deal of circulation over the past 25 years. In the late 1970s the paper sold more than 1.3 million copies a day. During the year-long closure of the Times in 1979/1980 it even reached 1.5 million copies a day. Yet it failed to capitalise editorially on the problems of its grander but much smaller rival, and since the early 1980s its sales have declined slowly but inexorably to their present point, where they stand at a little over 900,000. The Times meanwhile has advanced considerably by means of its price war, though failing to fulfil Rupert Murdoch's ambition to knock the Daily Telegraph off its perch. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.