Yesterday we reported on the latest circulation figures for the regional press, and amid the general gloom two newspapers stood out: Archant Norfolk’s Eastern Daily Press and the Evening News.
They were two of only three daily newspapers that managed to increase circulation in the first six months of the year, with the Evening News up 3.4 per cent to 19,161and its sister title the Eastern Daily Press up 0.6 per cent to 59,490 (the other was DC Thomson’s Dundee Evening Telegraph, up 1.6 per cent to 23,631).
It was a similar story in the last six months of 2010 when the Daily Press was up 0.4 per and the Evening News was up 0.5 per cent to 18,923.
As highlighted on his blog yesterday, back in April Jon Slattery wrote a piece for the Press Gazette magazine on the regional newspaper groups that were bucking the trend of falling circulations.
In it he interviewed Don Williamson, Archant Norfolk’s head of sales and audience growth, who said the rise was the result of work to build circulation going backwards several years and a change in status for his team.
Here is an extract from the article:
‘When I first came to Norwich the circulation department was in the basement. Now we are in the boardroom.
‘Our journey really started two years ago when we put together the key structure of an eight-strong circulation team focusing on nothing other than copy sales, rather than distribution or worthy causes like schools’ campaigns.
‘We concentrate on circulation and building copy sales. Circulation is one of the strongest and most stable revenue lines.”
He stresses the importance of having three of his team ‘out on the road’every day visiting newsagents and providing daily email reports giving feedback on how titles are selling and what stories have had the most impact.
Williamson says that as well as the streamlined structure, there is also a culture within Archant Norfolk that building circulation is “not down to one team in the building”.
‘We regularly hear from editorial colleagues within contacts and ideas. We go to forward planning meetings with the heads of editorial content. Part of the discussion is about sales activity.”
The sales activity focuses on casual sales in newsagents as well as encouraging readers to have their newspapers delivered.
The casual-sales effort involves supplying newsagents with good display equipment and offering them bigger commission than the national press does.
Home delivery is built on canvassing, and the Eastern Daily Press is now 55 per cent delivered.
To keep up the delivery network, Williamson also works closely with “rounds men” who deliver newspapers where there are no newsagents.
Williamson says there is a local expression ‘You do different in Norfolk’. He feels it applies to Archant Norfolk, where there is a “local feel and local decision making”.
He reveals sales are still on the up for Archant Norfolk’s titles for the first half of the year. “I still think the future is looking good. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more regional papers increasing sales”.
Williamson has practised what he preaches by holding surgeries in newsagents and community centres to listen to readers in the run-up to the Evening News, like many regional evenings, switching to overnight printing. The print deadline is now just before midnight rather than 9am.
He says a bonus of the switch will be to “give the paper a longer shelf-life and the opportunity to increase sales”, although he doesn’t take it as a given and acknowledges some will be unhappy with the time change.
Williamson wants to establish a bigger network of local correspondents and get readers and newsagents to have “an affinity and love” for the Evening News and “a sense of ownership of everything we do”.
The stakes are high. Williamson believes no other media, certainly not local TV or radio, will ever provide the same depth of community coverage as local newspapers and their websites, and claims:” If we don’t do it. No – one else will.”
He adds:”I love newspapers and want to make sure they are still a central part of our life in future, whatever changes lie ahead.”
Slattery also spoke with the editor of the Eastern Daily Press, Peter Waters:
Eastern Daily Press editor Peter Waters describes the paper as “militantly pro- Norfolk”.
He says the EDP steers clear of the “shock-horror reporting of crime, drugs, murder and mayhem that makes people afraid to go out once they’ve read the paper”.
Waters believes the paper’s coverage is boosted by having eight district offices, which also supply Archant Norfolk’s weekly papers, and specialist reporters covering local government, health, education and crime.
The EDP, unlike many other regional papers, has kept a London-based political editor, Chris Fisher, to cover Norfolk’s nine MPs.
Water says:”We are still very conscious of providing a comprehensive local news package as well as national and international news, sport and business, We should do everything a national can do, with local news as our USP.”
He stresses that the paper invests in quality journalism and content, even though Archant Norfolk has suffered staffing cuts like nearly all regional papers over the past few years.
Water says the paper has a bond with its readers going back to its launch in 1870 by the industrialist and reformer Jeremiah Colman.
“People respect and trust what we do,” he says. “I think we have a lot of credibility. `we never go down the ‘shock horror route.
“We want people to feel upbeat about where they live and they made the right decision to live in Norfolk. “We are militantly pro-Norfolk. We run campaigns for people to shop here and holiday here. the papers belong to Norfolk.”