Newspapers sales usually go up after the summer break so the increase in sales for some broadsheets in September may not be a big surprise. But in my latest analysis of the ABC figures for The Guardian I wonder if the public are turning to the qualities in a crisis.
Here’s the full article and below is a cut-down version:
It is no surprise that the Financial Times is up 2.83% from August, although that is still 2.68% down from 12 months ago. You would expect the House Newspaper for the City to do well during a market meltdown. What is intriquing is that the September sales of the left-leaning Guardian leapt 4.9% after a year in which their sales overall fell 5.08%. Are readers of this newspaper revelling in the collapse of capitalism or are they just worried about their savings?
Its Sunday stablemate, The Observer, saw an even more dramatic rise of 10.17%. That suggests to me that this is not all about the sudden popularity of financial reporting from a liberal perspective. Did I miss the free gold bullion promotion? There may be a clue to what really happened in the figures for the Independent.
By far the biggest casualty of September was the relaunched Independent and the Independent on Sunday under its new editor Roger Alton. The daily now costs £1 and sales fell 3.95% from last month. That is 12.13% down on last year. The Sunday Independent fell a drastic 7.2% in September contributing to a 14.5% yearly decline. It now sells just 145,417 full price copies.
What must be worrying for the Indie is its failure to sell seriousness at this most sombre of times. Despite the apparent increase in demand for intelligent and trustworthy reporting, they do not seem to be holding their ground in the quality market. I suspect some of those deserters have gone over to the Guardian, which kept its price unchanged at 80p, and even to Rupert Murdoch.
The Times was up by a very healthy 4.12% in September despite a price rise from 70p to 80p. The Sunday Times did even better with a 5.62% month-on-month increase. Editors James Harding and John Witherow must be delighted after all the flak they have taken recently over job cuts, newsroom changes and redesigns.
However, for the Telegraph price rises seem to have cancelled out the boost of a full-colour relaunch. Sales of the Daily Telegraph actually fell from August by 1.05% while the Sunday Telegraph rose a little by 0.47%. Year-on-year they lost 4.46% and 3.59% respectively. Overall, managers will probably see that as a successful trade-off between increased cover-price income and sales.
Of the rest, only The Sun recorded a circulation rise in September, by just 0.2%. That is just 1.83% down from last year and proof that aggressive pricing does work in terms of sales.
The Mirror confirmed the dire warnings of their Chief Executive Sly Bailey last week when she warned of tough times ahead for publishing. Mirror sales slipped 1.0% in September to 1,440,651. That contributed towards a big yearly fall of 9.09%.
Some of this month’s figures are odd. Certainly some of those newspapers than have lost ground will cite price rises or changes in management and marketing. Certainly, September shows that price is a significant variable in what is an increasingly brutal marketplace.
For those who have done better it could be the case that the various relaunches, special offers and some stirling editorial effort is staunching the bloody loss of readers. Or it could just be the Great Crash.
At the very least, it should tell newspapers that they have an important role in reporting the big stories. Robert Peston may be a marvel, but the public wants more. The consumer has not completely forgotten the utility of detailed, comprehensive and expert coveragethat you can hold in your hands. It should also remind us all of the importance of investing in economically literate journalism that can do the job of explaining this momentous and complex story.
The tough news is that the underlying economics of the newspaper industry are still dire, although not as bad as banking. Every sector recorded year on year falls. The tabloids were down by 3.77%, the mid-market by 6.28% and the qualities by 4.7%. Thanks to an Olympian August and the turmoil of September, those figures are not as bad as they could be, but the fundamental trend looks clear and worrying.