As editors head off to their places in the sun for their summer breaks, their circulation managers are scurrying around in altogether much darker places.
And the murky waters of foreign sales are sweeping further up the beaches.
The latest ABC figures ARE ridiculous. Nobody really believes them and there’s no proper way of checking claims of broadsheet and tabloid alike that holidaymakers are flocking to the news-stands of Torremolinos, Spetse and Miami in their thousands snapping up UK newspapers by the armful – like you do on holiday. Not.
Even if they did, few people go on vacation without cancelling their newspapers, so there should be an equivalent drop in sales at home.
The Daily Telegraph is claiming an incredible rise of 12,647 foreign sales for July, which conveniently keeps it over the million mark. Whew!
The Daily Express claims a whopping summer boost of 23,366. The Guardian says that its sales abroad are up by a rather more modest 1,269. And the Daily Mail reports a rise of 5,956 copies overseas.
True, they are all printing in foreign parts these days, but surely the holiday habits of Brits abroad haven’t altered to such an extent that they are spending their precious 14 days reading newspapers?
The question is, who are the papers kidding? Certainly not each other. Everyone in the business knows the figures are a fiction. But perhaps there are still advertisers out there who are willing to be convinced by a silver-tongued salesman.
But what a waste of money. Even if you charge Airline X or Hotel Chain Y 5p a copy to take large numbers of your newspaper, you are still paying a fortune to print and deliver copies that nobody wants to read.
Perish the thought but it would be perfectly possible to print thousands of extra copies and dump them on deckchairs all over the Costas or even pulp them, as long as an official-looking invoice is produced to hand to the ABC as proof that they were sold.
Only one paper, The Times, has had the courage to dump the fiction and take the traditional summer slump on the chin.
A combination of fear and false pride seems to be preventing others from following suit. But until there is a recognised distribution network abroad, where returns can be properly registered, such figures will remain as silly as a seaside postcard.
So watch where you put your bucket and spade this summer and don’t dig too deep; otherwise you might find out where the bundles are buried.