By Sarah Lagan
Circulation in the traditionally difficult regional evening market has fallen 4.4 per cent overall on last year.
The latest six-month ABC figures for July to December reveal that only one out of more than 80 of Britain’s evening newspapers increased sales in the second half of 2005: the Belfast Telegraph, which was up 2.5 per cent. The broadsheet continues to reap the benefits of launching a tabloid morning edition a year ago.
Editor Martin Lindsay said: "The early morning edition compact version is going head to head with the nationals, which means the Belfast Telegraph brand has a much longer shelf life.
People’s lifestyles are changing and you need to be batting with the morning papers, taking them on head to head."
The Scunthorpe Telegraph’s 2.3 per cent rise reflects the fact that some copies of a district edition were rolled into the main edition. Taking this into account, the paper’s sales actually declined 1.4 per cent.
Following The Birmingham Mail’s 11.9 per cent plunge to 83,111 despite its £1 million-plus relaunch in October, editor Steve Dyson claimed "it will probably get worse before it will get better".
The drop is almost 2 per cent bigger than in the period before the expensive relaunch, but Dyson remains bullish.
"The second six months [of 2006] will be tremendous, then the third six months again will lift and that is what long-term planning results in.
"We sold less because we were giving away 54,000 copies for seven weeks.
"But we are having a great reaction from new markets and this city is changing massively. We have changed so much in one go and with a specific long-term purpose in mind. There will be tweaks to the relaunch, but there are no U-turns on anything."
The Newcastle Chronicle has now overtaken the Mail’s circulation at 83,425 and other big city papers have suffered. The Manchester Evening News was down 5 per cent, the Edinburgh Evening News 6.5 per cent and the Liverpool Echo and Glasgow Evening Times both dropped 4 per cent. The Express & Star in Wolverhampton remains the top selling evening regional paper at 151,871, down 3.7 % for its Monday to Friday sale.
The Evening Express in Aberdeen almost defied the big city slide with just a 1.8 per cent decline. Evening Express editor Donald Martin said his paper had consistently outperformed most major titles in the past five years and had one of the highest prices in Northcliffe, at 36p. "There is a lot of cut pricing in Scotland, but we haven’t done that. We believe it’s about offering value for money," said Martin.
"We have put the price up every time we sell well, which has allowed us to reinvest in the product. We spend a lot of time looking at the market and working closely with our circulation, promotions and advertising team.
"We also know that the propensity for young readers to pick up this paper is higher than most other evening titles in Britain, which has been a deliberate strategy."
The Evening Star in Ipswich dropped 12.4 per cent after losing 10 per cent in the previous six-months. Editor Nigel Pickover said that although 2005 was tough, he viewed 2006 more positively, in part due to changes made to the Star, including a soft relaunch and the launch of two new supplements for junior sport and community news.
Chris Ozanne, newspaper sales manager at Archant, Suffolk, publisher of the Star, said: "The year-on-year figures are now averaging around -5 per cent. We aim for this to lessen further."
After the Belfast Telegraph the bestperforming evenings were the Herald Express in Torquay with a minute decline of 0.1 per cent, and the Sunderland Echo and Football Echo, down 0.3 per cent.
Many regional newspapers are moving into wider territory with the launch of Lite editions, magazines, podcasts, e-editions, content for mobile phones and video news.
In January, the Newspaper Society launched a portfolio audience group that is aiming to establish how the readership of these new platforms can be measured, in addition to the traditional circulation figures, to better reflect audience reach throughout the regional press.
Lynne Anderson, communications director of the Newspaper Society, said: "Measuring circulation alone clearly no longer gives an accurate picture of a regional centre’s reach. The challenge is to develop a national method of multimedia audience measurement that provides more meaningful figures for advertisers and agencies."