Many regional newspaper publishers have been considering whether to follow the Manchester Evening News in adopting a part-paid, part-free strategy, and from the next period some will have more incentive to than ever.
After a year of planning and negotiation with the regional press, ABC will, in the next period, for the first time merge paid and free circulation figures.
Director of newspapers at ABC Martyn Gates said that the bureau has discussed the mixed-circulation strategy with all regional newspaper publishers ahead of the rule change.
He said: ‘The fact that it has just been introduced [means] we are seeing a lot of newspapers asking about things, asking what is involved. It doesn’t mean they are a long way down the route of doing it.
“It needs to be a deliberate and definite distribution strategy. A lot of people are looking at it and wanting to know what is involved. I don’t think we will see a mad rush within the first year but no doubt there will be a few who want to. It creates the opportunity.”
In the latest report, the Reading Evening Post, which made the switch to part-paid, part-free in 2005 on one day a week, took the greatest paid for circulation hit in its sector – down 22.6 per cent to 12,160. It gives away 1,800.
The Manchester Evening News’s paid-for circulation was down 13.5 per cent to 81,326, but its overall distribution is 180,900 including frees. Since the MEN started giving away copies in the city centre in 2000, it has shed double-figure sales percentages in its ABC audits.
The Liverpool Daily Post’s year-on-year circulation decline was the smallest out of the part-paid, part-free papers.
The newspaper’s decline slowed on last year at -8.9 per cent to 15,581 compared with a -10.52 per cent drop in the first half of 2007.The Post now gives away 6,500 copies taking its full circulation up to 22,000. It switched to part-free last year.
Meanwhile Kent’s oldest weekly newspaper, The Dartford and Swanley Times, has become the latest paper to introduce a part-paid, part-free strategy.