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A declining industry

Richard North, 14/05/2012  


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We have been looking at current newspaper circulation figures,  published by the ABC circulation bureau, with some interesting results.

The last time we looked, for instance, the circulation of The Times newspaper had dropped to the daily average of 413,233, a year-on-year loss of 11.38 percent. Four months later, the same paper is selling 393,187 copies a day, representing an increased rate of loss at 12.59 percent, year-on-year.

For The Times this is a particularly savage blow, as the expected result of Murdoch's paywall strategy was that it would prompt an immediate rise in readers buying printed issues. The immediate response, following the introduction of the paywall in July 2010 was a fall in circulation, with it dropping below the half-million mark on August 2010 (494,205).

Then, having cut its cover price to 50p, the Daily Mail registered a circulation of 2,169,690, a 2.45 percent increase on July and its best circulation figure of the year. But now it stands at 1,991,275 copies a day – not quite the same precipitate fall, but a decline nonetheless. At the turn of the century, the paper was doing 2.35 million sales a day.

This illustrates a more general trend , right across the board, where decline in sales is universal and well-established. In August 2010, for instance, The Guardian, already in the decline, was selling 272,112 copies a day. November 2011 saw it selling 226,473.

This April, by contrast, sees 214,128 copies a day, representing a year-on-year-decline of 18.86 percent. The turn of the century saw it selling 401,560 copies a day, and it was to peak two years later (2002) at 411,386. In ten years, its circulation has nearly halved.

Another of the so-called quality newspapers, The Daily Telegraph was making 673,010 sales a day in August 2010. It managed only 594,644 in November 2011, and in April this year could only make 576,790 average daily sales, representing a year-on-year fall of 9.82 percent.

This century, the paper peaked in 2001, with copies at 1,022,263 a day being sold. Its current circulation level is not so very far from a fifty percent decline, in just over ten years. But in 1980, it was doing 1.44 million copies a day, compared with the Mail's 1.95 million.

The Sundays, over the recent period, are showing declines similar to those of their daily counterparts. The Sunday Telegraph on November last was doing 465,389 copies a day. Now it is down to 455,378 per day, from its all-time record in 1980 of 1,017,000 copies, and from its 21st century peak of 822,931 in 2001.

You have to go back to 1966, however, to see the peak for the Observer, when it topped out at 881,000 copies each Sunday. The turn of the century saw it decline to 416,460 and now it stands at a pitiful 252,802, representing a 16.61 percent year-on-year decline.

Still, of course, the newspapers are reaching huge numbers of people, but the industry is unmistakably in decline, and with it goes its authority. In ten years' time, some of the titles we see on the news stands will no longer exist.

However, given their current standard of writing, their choice of writers and their lacklustre grasp of the issues, their authority will have dissipated long before that. Sadly, when they finally disappear in physical form, they will not be missed.

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