Out of frying pan, HMV’s Fox picked to stoke Trinity Mirror’s fire

He couldn’t quite save HMV from the inevitable contraction of analogue entertainment – so can he re-invent one of the UK’s main newspaper publishers for the digital age?

Simon Fox, who leaves as CEO of HMV Group this week, has been appointed CEO of Trinity Mirror, which publishes over 130 regional papers, 500 regional websites, classified sites and the national Mirror, People, Daily Record and Sunday Mail.

Fox is appointed by Trinity Mirror’s new chair David Grigson, having shared the board together at social book service aNobii before HMV sold it to Sainsbury’s. Grigson (via release):

“Simon will provide the strategic leadership the company needs. His experience gives him a current and in-depth understanding of how consumers’ habits are changing and the technology that is driving these changes.”

Trinity Mirror has long attracted consternation for protecting profit with cuts while its underlying business suffers. It ousted CEO Sly Bailey – who recognised many of the problems but, during the economic downturn, insisted newspapers’ travails were somewhat cyclical – in May, amid growing complaint over her salary.

Trinity Mirror is the archetype of a newspaper publisher that needs to re-invent its product – especially exposed to the challenged local news market.

The Mirror redesigned its website earlier this year but has been driving crassly down-market, with celebrity titillation seemingly designed to plow the same low-brow furrow charted successfully by Mail Online.

Digital revenue growth has slowed down, challenged by a glut of competition for its MirrorBingo gambling website.

There are certainly parallels between Fox’s last and next employment sectors. Earlier this month, HMV forecast physical music sales on which it depends will shed another fifth this year and each year for the next three years.

Fox’s HMV tenure was marked by an attempt to sell in-store digital entertainment hardware on which consumers might play content. This year, he averted a collapse of the business only when music labels and movie studios agreed not to call in overdue payments for plastic discs but to accept HMV Group equity instead of the money.

Trinity Mirror’s digital strategy has see-sawed in recent years. In 2010, Trinity Mirror made its group-wide digital director and its regionals digital director redundant. National digital publisher Matt Kelly, who carved out soccer and celebrity coverage in to two distinct sites, recently left after 18 years with the publisher. Nationals digital managing director Chris Ellis remains aboard. Last month, tech exec Matthew Colebourne became Ellis’ director of new business development, charged with introducing new digital revenue streams.

Fox is the latest non-news publishing appointment to run a newspaper company, after Microsoft’s Ashley Highfield took the helm at Johnston Press and BBC director-general Mark Thompson was named to lead New York Times Company.