All but one London weekly sees drop in sales

By Dominic Ponsford and Maxine Clayman

Weeklies have previously provided a fig leaf for regional
newspapers' circulation embarrassment – but this time even they are
faring badly.

Just 45 per cent of the country's 531 paid-for weeklies put on sales year-onyear over the last six months of 2004.

This compares with 51 per cent putting on sales in the last two periods.

Region
by region, London remains by far the toughest area for weekly papers –
every title except the Hornsey Journa l series is down year-on-year and
the average decline is running at 4.2 per cent.

The Ham &
High's apparently alarming 20.9 per cent drop is largely due to the
spinning off of the Highbury & Islington Express into a separate
title and a reduction in bulks.

Richard Vanhinsbergh, editor of
the West Briton, which was down 3.6 per cent, pointed out that his
paper and the weekly sector have experienced many years of growth. He
said: "As ever we need to grow and develop in line with changes in
reader demands and lifestyle.

We are now looking in detail at
what we have to do with our publications, promotions and pricing
policies to reverse this current decline and continue to move forward."

Negatives
aside, local weeklies remain by far the most successful area of the
press in circulation terms, with year-on-year rises at some papers
unheard of in other sectors.

The Frome & Somerset Standard
was up 14.4 per cent year-on-year, helped by the launch of a new
edition in West Wiltshire area.

Editor Joanne Roughton said:
"Creating a whole new paper from scratch was exciting. By expanding our
network we can create a better dialogue with our readers as we're
always looking for ways to consolidate our success so far."

Another
high achiever was the Kirkintilloch Herald series, up 6.8 per cent
year-on-year on actively purchased sales after ditching its freebie
bulks.

Editor Christine McPherson said: "We've tried to introduce
less hard news and more stories relevant to the community. In terms of
growth of the sector as a whole I think people trust weekly papers more
than dailies. "They know it's local news that matters to them and they
won't get it anywhere else. Regional dailies have to cover a mix,
including national issues, which is where we have the edge."

The
Rotherham and South Yorkshire Advertiser 's success (up five per cent)
is put down to "consistency and caring for the local community" by
assistant editor Gary Hartley.

He said: "We are running more reader- led stories and therefore gaining more reader interest."

Tom
McConigley, editor of the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette (up 14.8
per cent), said: "All the reporters go the extra mile and don't just
rewrite press releases."

Newsquest's series of East Wales
weeklies had two titles in the top twenty for circulation growth:
Chepstow Free Press (up 9 per cent to 5,205) and the Monmouth Free
Press (up 15 per cent to 1,683).

Publisher Kevin Ward said:
"There's no magic wand to turn around the regional sector. It's down to
hard work and knowing your readership – you can tailor your stories to
better market your product."

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