Rusbridger and Guardian presses

Time for a mea culpa. I was rung last week by The Independent for an opinion on the financial troubles of Guardian Media Group. Arguing that the group was not just in trouble because of its digital investments, which may turn to be farsighted spending, I said that non-digital costs were also bearing down on the balance sheet.

And I added: “Spending a staggering amount on presses that have made no difference to the print circulation was a huge mistake.” The Independent got so excited about this soundbite that it reproduced it two days running.

I took hyperbole too far. The investment made by GMG in its new Berliner presses a few years ago didn’t make any difference to The Guardian’s falling circulation – but then neither has anyone else’s investment in new printing equipment stemmed their declines.

Alan Rusbridger

Alan Rusbridger

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger emailed a rejoinder. “The format wars did accelerate a decision about what to do when our printing contract expired at West Ferry.  We were not printing in full colour at the time, had no insertion equipment in London and needed imminently to think about how we could re-press or contract print in full colour.”

This was the crux:  “Some people dislike the Berliner format and think the Guardian should have gone tabloid, or remained broadsheet. But I think it is difficult to argue convincingly either that the alternatives would have made much difference in terms of circulation or in terms of the overall financial cost to the Guardian.”

He’s on the GMG board; he should know. We’re still waiting to see how GMG copes with the pressures on it, but I grant that the heaviest don’t seem to include those presses.

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