Newspapers, and their future

Interesting to look at current circulation figures for the leading national newspapers in the UK:

Dailies
The Sun 2,751,219
Daily Mail 2,011,283
Daily Mirror 1,122,563
The Daily Telegraph 596,180
Daily Express 586,707
The Times 405,113
Financial Times 319,757
The Guardian 229,753
i 243,321
The Independent 117,084

Sunday papers
The Mail on Sunday 1,921,010
Sunday Mirror 1,753,202
The Sunday Times 967,975
The People 770,772
Daily Star Sunday 644,804
Sunday Express 607,894
The Sunday Telegraph 461,772
The Observer 264,321
Independent on Sunday 124,428

Pretty much all are down on what they were a few years back.

What’s the future for newspapers? The current model isn’t really working, because of the impact of digital media. The Internet has come from nowhere in a very short space of time, and it’s hardly surprising that the newspaper industry has taken some time to adjust to it.

So we have a situation where there is reduced demand for physical papers, there is reduced advertising revenue, and there are still the same number of players. The obvious conclusion is that there will be casualties, and that not all can survive. But if you are a newspaper owner, you don’t want to be one of those, and you’ll fight to make your paper profitable.

Printing and distrubuting physical copies of newspapers is really expensive. But going fully digital would be an admission of defeat, and would likely spell the end of your newspaper brand. It would lose too much brand equity.

In light of lower revenues, stripping out costs is essential, but if you strip out too much on the editorial side then you could also damage the brand if the quality of the paper’s content decreases.

From my perspective, the only route to long-term safety is brand extension, using the wide exposure of the newspaper to help create a media brand that involves more than just delivering news. News is cheap and people are saturated with it. Newspaper brands (some of them, at least) are powerful and have incredible visibility. Newspaper owners need to be smart enough to build these brands in sensible, creative ways to extend them beyond the now unprofitable activity of delivering news.

And finally, an interesting question. If you were a wine writer, which paper would you most like to have a column in? The one with the largest circulation? Maybe. Perhaps, though, you’d want to be in the paper with the largest circulation among people who might have an interest in reading about wine.

7 comments to Newspapers, and their future

  • Emma B

    “And finally, an interesting question. If you were a wine writer, which paper would you most like to have a column in? The one with the largest circulation? Maybe. Perhaps, though, you’d want to be in the paper with the largest circulation among people who might have an interest in reading about wine.”

    I think Jancis has the answer to that one nailed with the FT, doesn’t she? Far and away the widest-ranging & most in-depth wine coverage permitted in any of the papers.

    NB: it would be interesting in light of this piece to see the weekend FT stripped out from the dailies & presented with the Sundays. I appreciate that it’s published on a Saturday, but that’s no bad thing given it takes the whole weekend to do it justice.

  • I’m a complete convert to the iPad edition of The Times – it’s easier to read than the printed version, in my humble opinion. Included in the monthly package of about £9 a month is The Sunday Times, which isn’t quite as slick, and access to the Times website. As you say, it isn’t just about delivering the news but the quality of the writing and the content.
    I hope the numbers add up for the industry (although prices are going up next month to new subscribers) as it is a great way forward. For wine magazines too, I’d suggest.
    In answer to the question about who to write for, it seems The Telegraph gives Victoria Moore a bit more freedom, scope and space, and she does a great job. I don’t believe that Telegraph readers are only interested in wines that cost less than a fiver, either.
    Unfortunately I rarely pay for Victoria’s work, as the articles are available online. There’s the rub. Meanwhile, after watching Richard Desmond’s performance at the Leveson inquiry, I doubt I’d want to be seen anywhere near his publications. ;-)

  • keith prothero

    Depressing that the two worst newspapers in the UK have the highest circulation in both Daily and Sunday papers. No doubt the Sun on Sunday will be No 1 soon——–.
    Frankly,I would be very happy to see most of the papers in your list disappear forever and if I was a wine journalist I would want to be in the Telegraph,Times or Guardian—————-but actually I hardly ever read the wine articles as they tend to focus on cheaper,supermarket sold wine.

  • Ian Black

    Jamie – I’m quite interested in your penultimate paragraph –

    From my perspective, the only route to long-term safety is brand extension, using the wide exposure of the newspaper to help create a media brand that involves more than just delivering news. News is cheap and people are saturated with it. Newspaper brands (some of them, at least) are powerful and have incredible visibility. Newspaper owners need to be smart enough to build these brands in sensible, creative ways to extend them beyond the now unprofitable activity of delivering news.

    In a sense that seems to be what Rupert Murdoch has been doing in building his media empire, though I’m not sure that I would want to see too many more of those. Robert Maxwell was probably an earlier iteration of the same idea.

    At a more technical level, I’m not sure that it’s true to say that news is cheap – most titles whinge about the increasing costs of newsgathering and seem to take more and more content from the agency newsfeeds. Maybe you meant it was cheap to access for the consumer? In any event, I am one of those who no longer buys newspapers, and I’m not about to convert to their digital version either. The common-sourced news can be obtained elsewhere. And to my eyes, their analysis has increasingly given way to “opinion”. When I want opinion, I’ll visit the public bar of my local, thanks!

    Media are really just a sort of pipeline for delivering information. The risks involved in major media brand extension involve information monopoly – or at least information access monopoly. This really goes against so many things that have been responsible for the rise of the internet, and seems retrograde to me.

    Sorry this sounds so negative. I just thought that some downside issues needed a bit of thought too.

  • Stu

    Quite – can’t imagine 2.7m Sun readers pondering over the latest low-sulphur Syrah now!

    No idea what the circulation figures are here in Australia. The model is somewhat different with capital city based newspapers (as i see them) eg The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age etc with two principal publishers: Fairfax and Uncle Rupe

    I used to subscribe to the Australian (a News publication that bucks the capital city trend and appears more of a nation-wide paper) – I only really liked it for the wine write-ups with Halliday (reviews) and Max Allen (opinion/ thought pieces in the main).

  • There’s one side of the newspaper industry you don’t touch upon; local newspapers. In my region the circulation of the main weekly locals is pretty impressive, with people using them to stay in touch with local news, events, advertising, etc. I’d bet that’s replicated across the UK, with a paper like the Evening Standard in London having a wider circulation that a few of those nationals.

  • Steve

    Giving away your entire product online is idiotic- The Guardian has the strongest ‘media brand’ imaginable and is influential way beyond its sales figures, yet if it’s still going in two years I will be amazed. It is losing tens of millions annually. I, like any teenager, could have told Rusbridger and pals that there is no need to post the entire content of the next day’s edition online the previous night. For newspapers there is simply no effective way to monetise the internet- the Times app might make three quid a month for News Int after Apple’s notorious gouging policy, but the loss of visibility behind a paywall means that as a ‘brand’ it consistently loses ground on free-to-view rivals. It might help stem losses but it won’t improve the deteriorating quality of broadsheet journalism, which is becoming more and more noticeable
    I no longer buy papers because, like Radiohead albums, their creators have defined their value as nothing, free, gratis. It’s no coincidence that the only publication comfortably defying the media downturn is Private Eye, which has little more than a token web presence but is uniquely placed to exploit the unpopularity of politicians, bankers, other modern nuisances…

    re local papers- the Standard- famously described by Danny Baker as ‘the London paper with a grudge against London’- is close to death as its freebie policy coincided with an advertising downturn. It costs a lot of money to shift piles of waste newsprint around London- had they kept street sellers that could have been saved. Elsewhere the general property collapse is disastrous for locals, that run on shiny adverts. The entirely useless content of most local papers doesn’t help (for instance, in Cornwall, where I’m from, the locals did not cover one of the biggest health service scandals in years- talent is not drawn to the sticks and editors are craven in front of their major advertisers)

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