At first glance there seems little for daily regional newspapers to cheer about in the latest six-monthly ABC circulation figures. Of the 100 or so titles listed in the main table on the left, just five evenings and one morning show a positive number in the year-on-year percentage growth column. Five years ago, the number was nearer 50 – and some of the increases then were in double figures.
But a closer look at this year’s table reveals some rather more encouraging signs. The trend towards the long-term removal of bulk sales – on which some papers had been relying for years to keep their figures artificially high – has continued to the extent that 97.5 per cent of evening papers and 97.7 per cent of mornings are now actively purchased.
The industry believes this concentration on “base sale” gives a far clearer and more accurate indication of performance than ever before.
Most titles have also been concentrating on selling more copies at full price, with the result that fewer copies than ever are being sold at a discount. This change is seen most dramatically in the evening sector, where full-rate sales now represent 96 per cent of all sales, compared with 90 per cent for the same period last year. Full-rate sales make up 97 per cent of all morning newspaper sales. All in all, evening titles have reduced bulk sales by 4 per cent.
Indeed, a number of the titles that recorded overall circulation falls achieved positive growth in their base sale. The Manchester Evening News, for example, although showing an overall Monday to Friday year-on-year decline of 1.7 per cent, has actually added more than 4,000 copies to its base sale since last year. Others showing base sale rises include the Scarborough Evening News, the Derby Evening Telegraph and the South Wales Argus.
Other solid performances came from The Gazette, Blackpool, the Jersey Evening Post and Guernsey Press, both owned by the Guiton Group, all of which recorded sales increases of 0.67 per cent.
The Gazette launched a new pre-printed colour magazine, Life!, with very localised lifestyle content and seven-day TV listings. This revitalised the paper’s Saturday sales performance, giving year-on-year growth on a day when many titles are finding it hard to compete against big national newspaper offerings. The launch of a free ads supplement, Cash In, produced on distinctive yellow newsprint, had a similar effect on Tuesday nights, giving year-on-year sales growth of 1.2 per cent. Managing director and editor-in-chief Philip Welsh said: “These two launches, combined with very strong in-paper promotions and a newspaper sales team focused on capitalising on news breaks, were key to our success. Saturday and early week are traditionally difficult days to influence, but we have bucked the trend on both days.” This strategy has continued into 2003, with The Gazette recently launching a pre-printed Friday entertainment magazine called The Weekend and Jobs Plus, a secondary jobs and careers supplement published each Saturday.
But these few successes aside, the number of titles showing year-on year drops of more than 5 per cent will be disappointing news for many.
By Ian Reeves