Actually we don’t store many newspapers. But where we do, there’s always something to learn

Some people assume that we store newspapers. I am not quite sure why they do that – maybe it is the image of the eccentric recluse with a complete set of every edition of Picture Post, or something like that, running out of space and turning to the local storage facility that they have in mind.

The truth is that we do have some newspaper collections at Admiral Document Storage – but not that many.

But even though I seek to disabuse people and point out that storing newspapers is not really what we are about, my protests don’t put people off.

And when I say that actually newspapers have never been a central issue for us I get a sly look as if to say, “you’re only saying that, but I know the truth”, followed by a comment about how we must be in trouble now that newspapers are in terminal decline.

Now, although any decline there is in the number of newspapers and their coverage is not of direct relevance to us, this is still a point that interests me, not least because, as with so many things in this world, the predictions made and the general beliefs as to what is going on are a long way from reality.

Newspapers in the UK do have a problem. Or rather they have three problems. But I am not sure that they are about to go out of existence.

First among the problems, the fact that the news and the feature articles are available on the internet reduces readership and this reduces income from readers.

Second, the cost of producing newspapers has gone up, due to rises in the cost of newsprint.

Third, advertisers have deserted the newspapers and gone to the internet.

In retaliation the newspapers have tried to sell advertisements in their on-line editions, but this income has nowhere near covered the losses experienced as a result of the three points above.

But curiously, not that many newspapers have folded. True, lots of the regional and local papers have moved across to being free publications – the Evening Standard in London being one of the most famous – but most of them are still there one way or another. The Mail, the Post, and the Express and Star are all still with us in the West Midlands.

Where there is a change is in the loss of journalists – the number is said to have dropped by around 25% in the past ten years.

But that is a very inward-looking issue – because aside from storing some collections of UK and local newspapers, I happen to know that we also have a collection of Chinese newspapers here.

I’ve no idea why – and of course I don’t ask my customers – I just pass on information if they choose to pass it on to me, and also (most importantly) tell me that it is ok for me to mention what they store in this blog. But in the course of finding out that we do indeed have Chinese newspapers here I also found out that the Chinese are the biggest devourers of newspapers in the world.

Now of course the population of that country is enormous, but even so, selling around 120 million newspapers a day, each day, is fairly amazing. (The number in Britain is around 17 million. In the USA it is 55 million.)

We also, very curiously, have a number of editions of a newspaper called Trud which I happened to see one day. My customer told me a most remarkable story about them.

This newspaper (Trud) was published during the days of the Soviet Union and it had a daily circulation of over 21 million. But this was nothing compared to the weekly paper with the absolutely glorious name of Argumenty i Fakty which had a circulation closer to 35 million a week at its height.

I wonder if anyone read it.

Compare this with Britain’s top selling paper, The Sun, which has a positively measly circulation of just 3 million.

In the USA they see things rather differently, and I have often wondered if any American travellers come to the UK and tell their hotel to deliver the nation’s top selling paper to their room each day. I mention this because their expectations might be unsettled. The top selling paper in the US is the Wall Street Journal.

Just in case you are interested, The Times of India is the third largest newspaper in India by circulation. Again I mention it because I have seen a few copies in our warehouse.

Of course my job is to run the facility, not look at what we are storing, but I am always happy to share information with my customers – where they wish to do so.

Somehow it seems to make life just a little more exciting.

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The idea that is so powerful that it can never be put onto a computer.

I’m endlessly fascinated with what gets stored in Admiral Document Storage. Of course I don’t have access to what people choose to store with my company, but sometimes they choose to talk with me, tell me what they are storing, and occasionally I get to have a look at what’s in the box.

One firm that we deal with produces staff training manuals and, despite the fact that such manuals could be supplied as Word documents, they still only provide them as printed copies. I asked why.

It seems that there are two reasons. The first is that documents that are provided as digital files are about 100 times less likely to be read than documents that are provided as manuals. And indeed, that “100 times” figure goes up further and further the bigger the document gets.

Second, anything digital can be copied very easily, and if it can be copied it will be copied. “If we released our manuals as digital files then we’d immediately have them circulating all over the internet. Of course we could demand they be taken down, but by then the damage would be done.”

“But printed copies can be photocopied,” I protested.

“However these days they aren’t, or not very much. If it isn’t digital, no one wants to know about copying,” said my customer.

So for him digital is out, and printing is back in. But what makes a training document so important that it needs to be protected in this way, I wondered.

The answer was clear.

“Successful organisations manage their staff very carefully and cleverly. This has got nothing to do with telling them what they can and can’t do, but it has everything to do with the management of who has the power.”

I obviously looked bemused at this point, because over a coffee I was given a more detailed explanation.

“Consider a large ship at sea,” said my customer. I duly did. “Who runs the ship?”

“The captain,” I answered.

“Fair enough,” my client said, “but what does the captain do if the ship’s engines are not running very well, and the ship is going more slowly than the captain would like?”

“He asks the engineer to fix things, I guess,” I said.

“And if the engineer says, ‘Sorry Captain, can’t be done, we need a new WX97 on the second engine’. What then?”

I thought about it. “I guess the Captain has to take the engineer’s advice.”

“So who is running the ship?”

We talked about it. Given that the captain probably doesn’t know a fraction of what the engineer knows about the ship’s engines in this regard, it seemed to be the engineer. The engineer says he needs a new component, and unless he can get a second opinion, the captain has to concur.

“Now think of a large company that is getting more orders in every week. More orders are processed through the company’s offices, but eventually the head of the order processing section says, ‘We are now overstretched, we need more staff. We also need three new computers to replace those that we bought three years ago’.”

“The MD of the company protests, arguing that the extra staff and new computers will eat up the profits that the extra work has generated, to which the head of processing says, “Fair enough, but we’ll have to cut something else because we are overloaded and the computers are too slow. Here’s our new priority schedule. Items at the end are likely not to be done some weeks because we have too much to do.””

I pondered.

“It is the same problem both ways,” said my client. “In most organisations today the MD thinks he has power, but in effect, because he cannot know about all of the operations of the business, he relies on others to tell him what’s what.

“Many senior managers will deal with this by refusing to give in, saying to anyone asking for more equipment or more staff, ‘just do your best’. Which puts the problem back to the head of processing or the ship’s engineer. Some will rant and rave and say, ‘If you can’t do the job I’ll get someone else in who can’, and will hope for the best, knowing that this might lead to a resignation or an industrial tribunal, and either way, quite probably a failing system.

“But there is worse, for in the most difficult cases the employee will be clever, and will say “here’s what we won’t do each week, because you are overloading us.” In short he gives the problem back to the boss.

“What our manuals do is show bosses how to cope with clever staff, how to retain power and how to get people to do what they want them to do. That is why we are so keen to keep it all under our hats. If the workers ever got hold of what we teach senior management, there would be hell to pay.”

I have to say that at this point that I did ask whether I could write this little exchange up on my blog, and did get agreement. “Knowing the principle doesn’t help people too much. It is knowing how to apply it that is the key,” my customer said. “By all means tell the world. But you can’t have a copy of the manual that tells them how to resolve the battle.”

So there we are. Another insight into what we store at Admiral Document Storage. Fortunately I don’t employ enough staff to lose control of my own business, but it is still frightening to think it could happen.

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Alternatively, please do call us on 0800 810 1125 or email us at