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WhiteBear Post time: 2012-7-27 14:48
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PAPERS IN THE UK
ABC figures, 2000-2009. Source: data provided by ABC. All figures include bulks.
Journalists like to speculate on why fewer national newspapers are being sold today than at any time during the past 60 years. But they rarely agree, offering a variety of idiosyncratic reasons. Here's a selection of the favourites, some of which may ring true while others are plainly daft. The current owners aren't committed enough, or are in hock to disengaged investors. The current editors aren't up to the job. The editorial content is all wrong, with too many columnists, too much feature material, and not enough hard news.
The editorial staffs are too small (and too sober). There is too much to read, which puts off readers. Print can't compete with 24-hour news on television and radio.
In the past decade, the overwhelming majority of journalists believe the internet is to blame, plus the growing availability of information through mobile phones. That, at least, makes sense. But it cannot be the definitive reason because the gradual, but inexorable, circulation decline predated the widespread use of the net through the extension of broadband.
In truth, there is no single reason for the fall-off in sales. There are overlapping motives for people giving up on newspaper reading or, most importantly, failing to take it up. We should be aware that changes in culture, lifestyle, work and demographics are also important factors.
The most profound change since the 1980s, the period that marks the major circulation turning point for nationals, is the twin phenomenon of a fragmentation of society and a fragmentation of media. Newspapers in their sales heyday in the 1960s reflected the segmentation of society in terms of social class: the leftish working class masses bought the Daily Mirror while the rightward-leaning working class bought the Daily Express. Similarly, the intellectual and political elite bought the Times while the solid middle class chose the Daily Telegraph.
We can no longer speak of the masses, and the middle class is no longer a description of an homogenous sector of the population, but a generalisation. Nor should we overlook the effects of immigration, a factor that requires empirical inquiry: do first, or even second, generation immigrants buy newspapers? Anyway, it is clear that as individualism became more prevalent in society, certainly by the 1990s, the old forms of broadcasting media began to break up, allowing people wide choice of TV and radio and, eventually, infinite choice through the computer terminal.
Newsprint newspapers have spent the past decade doing their best to change too, through innovation. They have poured resources into their websites, switched formats, offered seemingly endless extra supplements and magazines. They have also been forced into costly promotional gimmicks, from giving away CDs and DVDs to selling off very cheap copies to airlines and hotels and even chasing readers to foreign shores. None of this activity has stopped the overall sales rot, as the chart shows. In November 2000, the 10 national titles (those shown plus the Financial Times and the Star) together sold a total of 12,543,510 copies. Nine years later, as the latest set of ABC figures show, the same 10 titles sold 10,076,045 copies, a decline of 19.7%.
Some of the falls have been spectacular. The Daily Mirror has suffered a sales plunge from 2,777,501 to 1,260,019, a decrease of 55%. The Daily Express has lost 33.7%, the Daily Telegraph 26.6% and the Guardian 23.4%. The Independent and the Times have lost 22.5% and 21% respectively. The best-selling daily, the Sun, which dropped below 3m last month, has jettisoned more than 500,000 buyers since 2000, a decline of 15.7%.
The Sunday market's decline is steeper than that of the dailies. Its overall loss amounts to a 26.1% decline, and that latest figure includes an extra title, the Daily Star Sunday. The worst performer has been the People, which has plummeted from a sale of 1,471,675 to 533,782, a loss of 63.7%. Its stablemate, the Sunday Mirror, has also shed 38.4%. Even the market-leading News of the World has lost 26% of its buyers.
In the quality Sunday market, all four titles have recorded major falls, with the Independent on Sunday down 31.2%, the Sunday Telegraph losing 28.3%, the Sunday Times 16.9% and the Observer 15.5%.
Only one paper, the Daily Star, up 30.4%, is selling more copies now than in it was in 2000. There have also been only relatively small losses for the Mail titles, though they rely heavily on bulk sales.
It must be said, in mitigation, that all the papers have seen their online audiences grow over the period as their print circulations have declined. It is also the case that print editions still provide a huge proportion of the advertising revenue. There is life in print – but it is ebbing away slowly without any hint of recovery.