At Trinity Mirror's nationals, the worst recession in living memory feels like a blip

Some news organisations have had a half-decent recession. Trinity Mirror’s nationals rank among them.

This morning, Trinity Mirror released its final results for the year to December 2009. Ad revenues at the Daily Mirror and its stablemates fell by 8% during 2009. That’s far less than the chunky double-digit percentage declines that afflicted many broadsheets.

But at tabloids like the Mirror, circulation is more important than advertising. At Trinity Mirror’s nationals, for example, circulation comprises almost two-thirds of overall revenues. During 2009, these revenues held steady at the Mirror and its stablemates, declining by a mere 0.5%.

Add it all up, and Trinity Mirror’s nationals have emerged relatively unscathed from the worst recession in living memory. Overall, revenues declined by just 3.2% YOY to £460m. On the bottom line, operating margins were barely disturbed. In 2009, these declined to 18.2% from 18.7% during the previous year.

It’s hard to call this a recession: it feels more like a blip.

Sly Bailey and her management team will feel good about this performance. The comparison with the Mail and the Mail On Sunday is suggestive.

At Associated Newspapers, home to the Mail and the Mail On Sunday, like-for-like ad revenues fell by 15% during the year to October 2009, and then by a further 11% during Q409. Although it’s hard to make a direct comparison, circulation revenues seem to have fallen more rapidly at Associated, too.

As always, however, there’s a sting in the tail. Readers have stopped buying newspapers during this recession in big numbers.

Between July and December alone, the number of national newspapers sold by Trinity Mirror declined by up to 10%.

Trinity Mirror mitigated these big declines by hiking cover prices. During 2009, the Daily Mirror rose from 40p to 45p, and the Daily Record from 60p to 65p.

But if readers’ willingness to buy newspapers continues to decline at the current rate, an awkward question presents itself.

In a world where the Daily Mail costs 50p and the Sun costs anywhere between 20p and 35p, what’s the most that Sly Bailey can charge for a copy of the Daily Mirror?

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