"Do you think the UK Guardian is going to survive?" somebody asked me last weekend and I gave them the blunt answer: the paper, which has existed since 1821, has guaranteed its survival for at least another 30 years by selling off a major asset it owned –the classified car sales website Auto Trader–last year for around �650m.
The money will sit in the company's accounts as a cash reserve alongside an existing trust fund that is protected by its owners, the Scott Trust. Guardian Media Group has sold almost all of the assets it previously owned over the past few years, including dozens of regional newspapers and a radio station.
The cash reserve will fund the paper's Pulitzer-prize winning journalism for another generation but no business model so far invented seems able to stop the UK Guardian from losing between �15m and �30m per year.
Reducing headcount to cut costs in editorial departments has proved difficult because of the power of the union within the organisation. Instead, money saving has come through voluntary redundancy packages with hefty payouts in editorial and through restructuring the marketing, advertising and creative departments.
The paper has become significantly slimmer in terms of pagination while significantly increasing in price from 60p ($6) in 2005 to �1.80 ($18) in 2015.
In that context, the Trinidad Express' decision to raise the cover price long held by Trinidad's three main newspapers is hardly earth-shattering. The previous price rise in 2009 took the paper from a staggeringly cheap $1 up to $2. Before that the last price increase was in 1999.
Both the Trinidad Guardian and Newsday have shared similar models.
But it doesn't matter whether you keep newspaper prices low or increase them year on year–neither strategy is going to save newspapers in the UK or in Trinidad. The long slow death of the newspaper began at the dawn of high-speed internet a decade ago and probably has another decade to go, at most. At first I fought against it but now I have accepted it.
Virtually nobody under the age of 45 buys a daily newspaper. And judging by negative reactions to the Express paywall, they won't be buying it digitally either. Perhaps they ought to reconsider.
I could predict that in ten years� when printed papers are extinct and the format of news is drastically different –we will laugh at the outrage of people when asked to pay for digital products.
Consumers have come to expect that everything on a screen ought, by right, to be free. The things we access within seconds and consume all day everyday with our eyes, brains, mouse buttons, fingertips and thumbs. The things that shape our days.
Of course, online content is not entirely free: we pay our monthly WiFi bills. But they sustain the telecoms companies not the media organisations which are left to pay their editors and journalists from ever dwindling pots of money.
To transition from a print to digital business model, according to the UK Guardian's strategy, requires increased online advertising revenue as well as leveraging the brand through brand-related spinoffs: masterclasses taught by journalists, a dating site for readers and a membership scheme that one might expect of a political party; readers pledge their allegiance and contribute money to support the organisation.
So far, the UK Guardian claims to have 100,000 members in 200 countries. And that international aspect is fundamental to its future. Its digital advertising revenue has risen by 30 per cent by launching US and Australian versions of the website; bringing in more global users and increasing the amount of content and pages (ie advertising inventory.) Trinidad newspaper websites have a tiny consumer base –an adult population of just under a million and a diaspora population of around half a million–compared to global websites like the UK Guardian which attracts 3.9m unique users per day and 40m per month.
With Trinidad's population unlikely to rise it's hard to see how digital ad revenue will increase. At the moment Trinidad's major corporations and public bodies are still committed to print advertising which they see as more impactful than web ads (and they're right.)
So, whereas a paywall would kill off the UK Guardian's entire audience, business model and expansion strategy, the Trinidad Express has little to lose. It makes very little profit (possibly a loss) from the website it produces each day and its board has decided there's no point giving away online content for free any longer.
The impact of this decision will have to be mitigated quite heavily, however, since what the Express has effectively done is hand over a huge chunk of T&T's digital news audience to the Guardian. They will reason: "what good is an audience you can't monetise?" But their popularity will nosedive by blocking people off, making stories unshareable on social media and harder to read on mobile. This will have a negative effect on their brand.
They've gone brave and bet on their existing audience following them into the digital future and paying for the privilege. In time they may be vindicated. In the short term they will need to make sure the trickle of people that do subscribe are sold a world-class product if they have any hope of that trickle becoming a stream.