Worst results in memory

None of the UK's 68 "evening" titles put on sales year on year in the worst set of regional ABC figures for this sector that many editors can remember.

Although still categorised by ABC as evenings, many of these papers are now printed overnight and are effectively mornings, such as the Swindon Advertiser, and The Argus in Brighton.

Not only are all the figures downward, but total daily sales have declined at a sharper rate than before, down 6 per cent to 2,848,834 for the six months to June this year, compared with a year ago.

The average rate of decline is 5.3 per cent, meaning any paper above that figure can at least console itself that it is out-performing the market.

The two drops which stand out most sharply are at two of the biggest papers in the country: the Birmingham Mail and the Manchester Evening News, which dropped by 17.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent respectively year on year.

At Birmingham, new editor Steve Dyson spent £1 million on a relaunch last October, which included more regional editions and community news.

It was part of a bid to reverse 30 years of decline which is thought to have been fuelled by the city's rapidly changing population.

Dyson said: "We've had some successes. Independent research has shown that readership is up, while the profile of that readership is more in line with our target of a younger and more female audience.

"As we expected these latest ABC figures reflect a continued downward trend. However, while the Jan-June figure shows a sharp year on year fall, going forward the trend is expected to improve, with the rate of decline slowing during the second half of the year."

At the Manchester Evening News, the drop from 137,391 to 114,675 was partly explained by the radical decision in April to start giving away 50,000 copies in the city centre.

That figure has now gone up to 60,000, so while paid for circulation has gone down, the MEN's overall pick-up has increased to 174,675.

Sales have also been hit by a price rise overall of 5p to 35p, and an increase on Fridays from 10p to 35p.

Editor Paul Horrocks said: "We are now reaching a market that more fits the profile of the city, more ABC1s and more 15-44 year-olds.

"We've invested in this product — there's now a higher story count, we've redesigned the paper and built new full colour presses. We regard readers who pick the product up as just as valuable as its paid-for readers."

Horrocks also pointed out that the MEN is now reaching more Manchester residents through TV station Channel M, which has a weekly reach of 240,000, and through the MEN Online Network, which claims to have 1,396,198 users per month.

When asked why the ABC figures for evening titles are so bad this time around, he said: "I think what we are seeing is more and more media fragmentation, and it's now become obvious that daily papers have got a real battle to maintain market share and to win a new audience."

The best performing regional evening was the Newsquest-owned Bournemouth Daily Echo, which only fell 0.7 per cent year-on-year to 34,324.

Deputy editor Ed Perkins said: "We freshened up the paper last year with a new masthead, and in December we had a big story involving a local shopping centre which attracted a lot of readers for us and turned out to be a springboard. We work incredibly closely with our newspaper sales team and look at what stories are selling papers.

We try to maximise the sale of the paper by making it available to people as early or late as they want.

"We try to make the front page as powerful as possible and we try to make every page lead as stimulating as possible."

In recent years two of the regional newspaper giants — Northcliffe and Trinity Mirror — have made drastic cost cuts across their regional titles.

And others, such as Johnston Press, are seen as being run as frugally as they can be already.

Anecdotal evidence from frontline journalists suggests that a lack of investment in editorial helps explain the sales drops. One journalist on a mid-sized evening paper with a particularly high sales drop this time around told Press Gazette that on a recent Friday shift just half a dozen reporters were producing not just Saturday's paper, but most of the copy for Monday.

Mark Forster, a feature writer on the Northcliffe-owned Sentinel in Stoke (which dropped 5.8 per cent this time)

said: "Newspapers are playing a dangerous game of just getting a product out. It's the best they can do at any given time.

"If you invested in a newspaper rather than pressing for profit margins of 30-plus per cent, like we saw earlier this week with Johnston Press, maybe you could start attracting readers back."

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