Saturday, March 18, 2006

Pressed out?

Whilst randomly scanning several other blogs I've come across this interesting post about newspaper readership & circulations on A Liberal Goes A Long Way.

For the uninitiated the "circulation" for a newspaper is the number of copies sold each day, whilst the "readership" is the number of people actually reading the paper. The National Readership Survey calculates the latter on the basis of a mass survey and is the basis used for selling advertising space so there is a strong vote of confidence in it as an accurate measure from one of the most important quarters. (The NRS website refers to "Great Britain" - I am not sure if it covers Northern Ireland. However that distinction is currently rather more relevant to advertisers than political influences.)

The readership figures for the daily and Sunday papers are as follows (percentage comparisons are with last year):


The Sun = 8,140,000 (-8%)
Daily Mail = 5,640,000 (-2%)
Mirror = 4,150,000 (-11%)
Daily Telegraph = 2,160,000 (-1%)
Daily Express = 1,980,000 (-7%)
The Times = 1,810,000 (+9%)
Daily Star = 1,780,000 (-9%)
The Guardian = 1,220,000 (+14%)
The Independent = 705,000 (+10%)
Financial Times = 391,000 (-10%)


News of the World = 8,630,000 (-9%)
Mail on Sunday = 6,310,000 (=)
Sunday Mirror = 4,570,000 (-6%)
Sunday Times = 3,550,000 (+9%)
Sunday Express = 2,230,000 (+1%)
Sunday Telegraph = 2,040,000 (=)
People = 1,980,000 (-11%)
Observer = 1,290,000 (+11%)
Star = 1,020,000 (-16%)
Independent on Sunday = 788,000 (+18%)
Several points immediately stand out. First off is the decline of the Mirror. There was a time when was talking tough about readership being on the up and aiming to challenge The Sun for the top slot. Instead it has declined drastically and is now lagging well behind the Daily Mail.

The Daily Express should frankly be ashamed of itself and I wouldn't be surprised if Lord Beaverbrook is turning in his grave. When doing research for my thesis I have seen many copies of the Express from the late 1930s when it routinely trumpeted its latest increases in sales, at one stage breaking the world record for sales almost every month. Now it is lagging far behind those glory days.

The Independent, Times and Guardian have all substantially increased their sales - is this a continued effect of the "compact" format? And if so, can the Telegraph hold out? (And what will happen to all the readers who despise the compact format?)

(On the issue of the compact format, I have to wonder if it isn't driven more by newsprint costs rather than the often cited problem that commuters find it difficult to fold the paper on the train. When I commuted to school nearly three-quarters of the carriage read a broadsheet each day and it wasn't hard to master the trick of folding the page in half to slide round.)

But it's the message about party support and influence that stands out the most from these figures. ALGALW's analysis has it best:
...while it's debatable whether newspapers' endorsements of political parties in reality has much effect... it’s interesting to tot up the numbers.

The Labour Party was supported by five daily newspapers at the 2005 general election (Sun, Mirror, Times, Guardian and FT), with a combined readership of 15,711,000 (56% of total readership). The Tories could count on just three (Mail, Telegraph and Express), with readerships of 9,780,000 (35%).

Rather quirkily, the Star and Independent have this much in common: both declined to endorse any one party (one out of utter disinterest, the other out of split loyalties). The Sundays, far less influential, were slightly more even (51% to 44%), owing to the Sunday Times's tepid support for the Tories.

But these figures illustrate how important is Rupert Murdoch – whose 75th birthday it was last week-end – to Gordon Brown and David Cameron. (I suspect Ming Campbell has probably written off the chances of gaining this senior citizen’s vote.) The 56:35 split in daily newspaper readership figures in favour of Labour could easily be reversed if Mr Murdoch were to decide the Sun (and Times) should switch sides next time, and back the Tories.
I'm not sure many newspaper readers vote on the basis of editorial endorsements and newspaper circulation drives generally focus on matters other than their political stance. But the media can still write up or write down individuals and parties. Over the next three or four years several of these papers can have a big impact. Constant headlines and major stories about achievements of one party and/or the failures of another do have an impact on shifting public opinion. As has been shown by the Tessa Jowell affair the media often plays a strong role in sustaining a story and keeping it in the public eye.

But the other big point is the general decline in readership. Daily sales have dropped from thirteen to twelve million in the last three years. At the same time digital television has expanded, online newssites are getting even better and larges parts of the public are receiving their news from ever more diverse sources. One has to wonder whether Murdoch really does have the power so many have long attributed to him.

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