Regional newspaper ABCs - does the fightback start here?

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“Regional newspaper circulation figures” and “good news” – have not recently gone hand in hand.
But yesterday’s half year report for the UK’s 1300-odd regional newspapers provided grounds for a good deal of optimism.
After crunching the numbers we’ve worked out that sales of paid-for weeklies in fthe irst half of this year averaged 4,817,073 – a drop of 1.1 per cent year-on-year. In other words they are more or less stable. Some 63 UK titles put on sales.
The overall evening newspaper drop was less encouraging – down 5.6 per cent to 2.78 million.
Even here there were some encouraging signs, admittedly only four out of 82 put on sales. But take, for example, the Argus in Brighton – if ever there had seemed to be a regional press basket case it was this.
After an upmarket relaunch in February 2004 – which involved ditching much of its community news – it recorded disastrous consecutive ABC drops of 9.7 per cent and then 11.1 per cent year-on-year.
Brighton has a very young, transient, web literate population – in short, a circulation manager’s nightmare.
But this time around it managed to slam the breaks on the circulation slide. It was just fractionally down 0.8 per cent year-on-year to 33,950 Monday to Saturday (all of which were real newsagent sales or subscriptions).
This is despite the fact that the Argus also gives away a free Lite edition to commuters in the mornings.
Perhaps most interestingly, the Argus has begun putting a lot of its news on the internet first – indicating that, for daily newspapers at least, giving away your news for free may in fact encourage print sales.
Free weeklies – by the far the most numerous regional newspapers categories – increased their circulation by 2.25 per cent from 27,225,881 to 27,840,324. Another indication that the public’s taste for newsprint is far from dead.
All this is not even mentioning the massive strides forward local papers have made in terms of web traffic over the last year (for more on which see Press Gazette’s four-page regional newspaper ABCs special next week which includes a unique web traffic survey).
When you add to this the fact that all the recent regional newspaper company results announcements have indicated that the rate of decline in advertising income is now slowing (rather than being in terminal freefall has some had suggested) – there is a lot to be optimistic about in the regions.
Maybe not quite the greenshoots of recovery – but perhaps the fightback starts here.

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