Tabloid switch pays off for Northern Echo

Going from broadsheet to tabloid cannot solve circulation problems in every case, but it has worked well for at least one paper, according to the latest regional ABC figures.

The Northern Echo, which went tabloid on 26 February last year, performed the best out of any of the 16 British morning papers with only a slight drop year on year of 0.8 per cent to an average circulation of 50,256. The Newsquest title was 5.2 per cent down year on year for the last six months of 2006.

Johnston Press‘s Wakefield Express, which want tabloid on 9 February after readers voted in favour of the change, was marginally up year on year by 0.8 per cent to 32,642. Its sister title, the Hemsworth and South Emsall Express, was up 15.6 per cent year on year to an average of 6,453.

By contrast, Johnston’s Halifax Evening Courier, the last evening broadsheet to go tabloid on 6 April last year, was down 8.7 per cent year on year with an average sale of 19,956.

Northern Echo editor Peter Barron said: ‘Going compact led to an immediate rise and steady improvement throughout the year. I think the figures show it was the right thing to do.”

He said the paper’s own sales figures show the paper up 0.1 per cent year on year for the first seven weeks of 2007.

But Barron stopped short of dismissing the broadsheet design as a business model altogether. ‘I think there’s a business case for the Daily Telegraph ending up as the last broad­sheet in the national market… there is a USP attached to that. In terms of the regionals, I just knew it was the right thing to do for the Echo.”

Barron, who has been editor for nine years and held regular focus groups and meetings with readers during that time, said the challenge is in the Echo competing against other tabloids on their own terms, not as a recently changed broadsheet.

Two more papers have gone tabloid recently – in January, the Richmond and Twickenham Times switched, as did the Surrey Mirror and its sister title the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser last month.

The Oxford Times will also release its first tabloid paper this week – in what editor Derek Holmes said was an attempt to accommodate the paper’s largely quality-paper reading audience. In this set of ABC figures, the Times’s circulation was down 10.1 per cent year on year to 22,793.

The effect of downsizing on these papers will be not officially be known until the summer’s ABC results appear.

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