Bulk goes slump stays

Regional newspapers are continuing to strip out bulk sales and discounted copies from their circulation figures – which reveals some good news for the weekly market but continuing decline for the dailies and evenings.

The six-monthly ABC figures for July to December show record levels of actively purchased copies, an indication of the industry’s determination to clean up its sales. Over the six months, 98 per cent of all regional titles were actively purchased – an increase from 96 per cent six months ago – and 96 per cent of them were bought at full price.

The chief executives of both Johnston Press and Newsquest stressed the efforts they have made in cleaning up sales. "We have been operating a policy of taking bulk sales out of our figures – this action has resulted in a reduction of overall numbers. However, we have some strong sales, particularly on our weekly titles, and with these go impressive household penetration," said Newsquest’s Paul Davidson.

In the weekly market, despite an overall circulation slip of 0.4 per cent, more than half of paid-for titles nonetheless increased their sales.

Top performers among the weeklies (where 74.5 per cent of titles are now 100 per cent actively purchased and the average title is 98.42 per cent actively purchased) were the St Albans Observer series (up 42.19 per cent), which has changed from broadsheet to tabloid and changed its publication day, and the Free Press of Monmouthshire series (up 29.46 per cent). The Kent Messenger, with a whopping 20 per cent increase, is now the largest weekly newspaper with sales of 57,841, taking it comfortably ahead of the titles which have vied for that title in recent years – the West Briton and the Essex Chronicle. The increase is largely due to its absorption of the Friday edition of its evening stablemate, Kent Today, which stopped publishing in September.

Manchester’s Metro News is still the largest circulating weekly free, with a distribution of 301,886.

For the daily and evening market, it seems that short-term sales boosts after September 11 failed to have any significant impact on the overall downward trend. Overall, circulation fell by 3.9 per cent. Just 11 evening titles registered growth in their Monday to Friday editions – the most impressive of these being the News & Star in Carlisle, which has managed to build on the boost it got from the foot and mouth crisis with a chunky 4.2 per cent gain and no bulks.

Other strong performances were recorded by the Guernsey Evening Press & Star (up 1.12 per cent) and the Lancashire Evening Post (up 0.78 per cent).

Of the dailies, the Western Morning News appears to be reaping the benefits of changes made by new editor Terry Manners. It was the only English morning title to put on sales. In Scotland, the Paisley Daily Express won an impressive 3.2 per cent growth

In the difficult Sunday market, the performance of Plymouth’s Sunday Independent stands out – a 2.32 per cent growth. The Sunday Life in Northern Ireland registered a small growth too, while Glasgow’s Sunday Herald went up by 2.64 per cent.

By Ian Reeves

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