Secrets of regional titles that bucked ABC sales trend

 

While nearly every paid-for regional newspaper in the British Isles lost sales year on year in the first half of 2012 some titles did manage to defy the odds and grow print circulation.

Press Gazette asked the editors of the three best-performing weekly and daily titles what it is they are doing right.

The Ballymena Times, based in Northern Ireland, performed better than any other publication in the regional ABCs, with a 6.7 per cent circulation increase year on yearto 3,499.

Editor Dessie Blackadder said his title’s traditional news values formed a big part of the success, and pinpointed a nostalgia feature – developed over the past couple of years – as a big seller.

“We’re not taking pictures of streets 100 years ago, it’s things that are still in living memory – the 60s, the 70s and the 80s,” said Blackadder.

“The generation who were going to the discos, dressing up as punks and new romantics are now 50. They’re of an age when they’re starting to feel nostalgic.”

Fellow Northern Ireland title the Tyrone Times was another strong performer, witheditor Peter Bayne citing the presence the paper has managed to build up in the community.

The weekly now sells 3,564 copies a week – a 3.5 per cent increase – having grown from less than 3,000 in 2007.

“We are in a very good position. Over the years we have built up a good rapport with the communities,” Bayne said.

“Our readership has been increasing because we have become very much community based.

“This year we’ve been running a campaign on drugs and through that our neighbouring town has set up their own community group.

"Being out there in the community, showing that we care, means people have repaid our faith while other newspapers have unfortunately suffered the reverse trend.”

Both the Ballymena Times and Tyrone Times have adopted similar online approaches.

“Last year I’d have been of the opinion that putting less stories on our website and keeping them in print is best,” said Bayne.

“I’ve reversed that trend this year and am putting all the stories on our website at the same time as our news. That has had no negative impact on circulation whatsoever and our web visits have increased three-fold in the same six-month period. I’m delighted.”

 

Blackadder said: “We have no compunction about taking stories straight to the web. We take nearly all content to the web but change the slant or the pictures, or use more pictures within the paper.

“We are using the website constantly as a taster process but we do get a fair bit of good bulk to build in to. And actually we use an awful lot of stuff in the web that we don’t use in the paper.”

The second best performing weekly paid-for – before the Tyrone Times and below the Ballymena Times – was the Brentwood Gazette.

“We’re all very active tweeters, and that helps,” said editor Neville Wilson. “Every Wednesday, when the paper comes out, we have people tweeting about our stories, and that’s largely down to our reporters being on the site.”

Although a large proportion of the paper’s 6.4 per cent growth – meaning sales now stand at 12,731– can be put down to the launch of the Romford Gazette (included in the ABC count), Wilson was still impressed by his paper’s growth when most other south-east titles faltered.

While the Brentwood Gazette benefitted from a new title, the daily Western Morning News benefitted from cut-backs at smaller Northcliffe titles in the region.

While the average UK daily experienced a year-on-year circulation decline of 8.2 per cent, the Plymouth-based title, down 2.4 per cent to 30,325 daily sales, saw the third smallest drop of any daily title.

Editor Bill Martin admitted that the title had picked up sales from Exeter and Torquay, where daily titles have switched to weeklies in the last year, but expects the title to continue to improve.

“The secret of the Morning News’ success is that it’s always remained very close to the communities it serves,” he said.

“Devon, Cornwall and Somerset have a very rural heart and we recognise that. The staff are very well aware of that and the Western Morning News is a part of the furniture here in the West Country.”

The two daily titles which experienced the smallest circulation declines were the Jersey Evening Postand the Guernsey Press & Star, both of which dropped circulation by 1 per cent.

Both editors cited the fact that their islands have their own governments for their ABC results.

“We’re a tiny patch that in the UK would be lucky to have a weekly,” said Richard Digard, the editor of the Guernsey Press & Star, which has a circulation of 15,013.

“We run everything from international relations down to parish council stuff. Although it’s a tiny area, a lot goes on here.”

Chris Bright, editor of the Jersey title, which has a circulation of 17,912, described a similar situation on his island. "The advantage of being based in Jersey is that it’s a self-contained community,” he said.

“It retains community cohesion more than in some parts of the UK and we’re a part of that.”

While nearly every paid-for regional newspaper in the British Isles lost sales year on year in the first half of 2012 some titles did manage to defy the odds and grow print circulation.

Press Gazette asked the editors of the three best-performing weekly and daily titles what it is they are doing right.

The Ballymena Times, based in Northern Ireland, performed better than any other publication in the regional ABCs, with a 6.7 per cent circulation increase year on yearto 3,499.

Editor Dessie Blackadder said his title’s traditional news values formed a big part of the success, and pinpointed a nostalgia feature – developed over the past couple of years – as a big seller.

“We’re not taking pictures of streets 100 years ago, it’s things that are still in living memory – the 60s, the 70s and the 80s,” said Blackadder.

“The generation who were going to the discos, dressing up as punks and new romantics are now 50. They’re of an age when they’re starting to feel nostalgic.”

Fellow Northern Ireland title the Tyrone Times was another strong performer, witheditor Peter Bayne citing the presence the paper has managed to build up in the community.

The weekly now sells 3,564 copies a week – a 3.5 per cent increase – having grown from less than 3,000 in 2007.

“We are in a very good position. Over the years we have built up a good rapport with the communities,” Bayne said.

“Our readership has been increasing because we have become very much community based.

“This year we’ve been running a campaign on drugs and through that our neighbouring town has set up their own community group.

"Being out there in the community, showing that we care, means people have repaid our faith while other newspapers have unfortunately suffered the reverse trend.”

Both the Ballymena Times and Tyrone Times have adopted similar online approaches.

“Last year I’d have been of the opinion that putting less stories on our website and keeping them in print is best,” said Bayne.

“I’ve reversed that trend this year and am putting all the stories on our website at the same time as our news. That has had no negative impact on circulation whatsoever and our web visits have increased three-fold in the same six-month period. I’m delighted.”

Blackadder said: “We have no compunction about taking stories straight to the web. We take nearly all content to the web but change the slant or the pictures, or use more pictures within the paper.

“We are using the website constantly as a taster process but we do get a fair bit of good bulk to build in to. And actually we use an awful lot of stuff in the web that we don’t use in the paper.”

The second best performing weekly paid-for – before the Tyrone Times and below the Ballymena Times – was the Brentwood Gazette.

“We’re all very active tweeters, and that helps,” said editor Neville Wilson. “Every Wednesday, when the paper comes out, we have people tweeting about our stories, and that’s largely down to our reporters being on the site.”

Although a large proportion of the paper’s 6.4 per cent growth – meaning sales now stand at 12,731– can be put down to the launch of the Romford Gazette (included in the ABC count), Wilson was still impressed by his paper’s growth when most other south-east titles faltered.

While the Brentwood Gazette benefitted from a new title, the daily Western Morning News benefitted from cut-backs at smaller Northcliffe titles in the region.

While the average UK daily experienced a year-on-year circulation decline of 8.2 per cent, the Plymouth-based title, down 2.4 per cent to 30,325 daily sales, saw the third smallest drop of any daily title.

Editor Bill Martin admitted that the title had picked up sales from Exeter and Torquay, where daily titles have switched to weeklies in the last year, but expects the title to continue to improve.

“The secret of the Morning News’ success is that it’s always remained very close to the communities it serves,” he said.

“Devon, Cornwall and Somerset have a very rural heart and we recognise that. The staff are very well aware of that and the Western Morning News is a part of the furniture here in the West Country.”

The two daily titles which experienced the smallest circulation declines were the Jersey Evening Postand the Guernsey Press & Star, both of which dropped circulation by 1 per cent.

Both editors cited the fact that their islands have their own governments for their ABC results.

“We’re a tiny patch that in the UK would be lucky to have a weekly,” said Richard Digard, the editor of the Guernsey Press & Star, which has a circulation of 15,013.

“We run everything from international relations down to parish council stuff. Although it’s a tiny area, a lot goes on here.”

Chris Bright, editor of the Jersey title, which has a circulation of 17,912, described a similar situation on his island. "The advantage of being based in Jersey is that it’s a self-contained community,” he said.

“It retains community cohesion more than in some parts of the UK and we’re a part of that.”

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