First News eyes global expansion as print paper for kids sees profits rise

First News, the UK’s only newspaper directly targeting children, is seeking opportunities to expand internationally after seeing strong profit growth over the past two years. It claims its print success is due to a “sweet spot” of younger kids who like having their own physical newspaper, despite the fact that the majority of print newspapers are struggling to stay afloat.

The publication, which launched in 2006, saw a 48% increase in profit year on year to 2014 after seeing 42% growth the year prior, according to the company.

First News also claims its print publication, and not its website, is its major revenue driver. This is despite the fact that nearly half of regional daily newspapers lost print sales at a rate of more than 10% in 2013, according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Charlotte Le Butt, a former marketer recently appointed at the first managing director of the company, told Marketing Week First News has been on a “strong trajectory” over the last four years following a tough start.

“First News has captured something that wasn’t there before,” she says. “There’s a real gap in the market, and nobody has tried to get in and take over.”

She adds that the “sweet spot” for the paper’s print sales is 10-year-olds.

“As they got older they can tap into the digital version as well, but when they’re younger, they like feeling grown up and having their own newspaper,” she says.

The paper, which is sold through subscriptions as well as in retailers such as Sainbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco, has a consumer base which is largely made up of parents and grandparents buying the magazine for their children and grandchildren.

However, Le Butt says the newspaper is also widely used as a tool in classrooms, particularly in schools that are lacking resources.

“It’s a brilliant way to teach kids about the world and what’s around them,” Le Butt says. “It’s not just a paper, there’s more depth to it – it manages to convey some meaty issues in a way that can relate to kids.”

First News looks to global expansion

Le Butt, who previously held roles as marketing director of Pret A Manger and head of marketing for BBC Two, was appointed to the company to lead the brand’s growth both in the UK and internationally, having already claimed the title of widest-read children’s publication in Britain, according to the company.

Data collected by First News as of January 2014 showed the paper had over two million readers between the ages of seven to 14 across the country each week, with a current circulation of over 86,000.

“We’re looking at launching internationally, as lots of international schools, such as in Spain or Australia, work through the British curriculum,” Le Butt says, adding that there’s an opportunity for using First News to teach English as a second language.

The brand is also re-examining how it approaches its marketing, having used “small targeted marketing” tactics rather than big awareness campaigns so far.

The company has also worked with brands such as Ocado and Sky News to broaden its scope.

“We’ve been doing an initiative called Hot Seat with Sky News where we get six First News readers to interview a politician, such as Boris Johnson,” Le Butt says.

“We try and make it newsworthy, but also fun and engaging to kids so we don’t turn them off,” she says. “It’s a fine balance.”

Declining print industry hasn’t quelled optimism

Meanwhile, most newspapers, particularly local ones, are struggling to survive.

Over the past decade, data from the NUJ shows that 20% of the UK’s local newspapers have closed, with only 70 new launches.

“If you’re launching something new in this day and age in the print medium, it’s incredibly hard,” Le Butt says. “Most kids are more excited about seeing things digitally.”

Le Butt believes First News’ revenue stream will eventually balance out due to new digital developments to come in 2015.

However, she says there is is still demand amongst the company’s readership for a physical newspaper.

“There’s definitely a market moving forward for us in the physical print form, as demonstrated by our growth year on year from the physical newspaper,” she says.

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