Decline in newspaper print sales continues in Scotland

January 18, 2018

Scotland’s newspapers have continued their long-running decline in print sales, with the sharpest decline hitting the newest title.

The National saw an annual fall in print sales of more than 30% to 8,500 average daily circulation in July to December.  Its digital subscriptions fell even more steeply, to below 2,000.  Only one other UK “regional” paper – in Wigan – reported a bigger fall in sales.

The National was set up soon after the 2014 referendum by The Herald and Evening Times group in Glasgow, to appeal to pro-independence readers.

A month after marking its 200th anniversary, The Scotsman reported a particularly sharp decline in print sales in the second half of last year.  With harsh cost-cutting to help reduce its parent company’s debt, the Edinburgh-based title is seen within the industry as particularly vulnerable to ending its daily print publication.  Its sales were down by 14% to less than 20,000, but 2,300 of them were given away free at airports and in hotels – known in the industry as “bulk sales”.  Audited figures for its free-access website saw daily browsers at 97,200 over the second half of 2016.

The Herald fell by 10% to 28,900 average daily sales in the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures. Online traffic hit 88,400 visitors to its website, up 11%.  The other two city daily papers, The Courier and the Press and Journal, have seen slower declines in recent years. The Courier was down 8% to 39,300 sales in the second half of 2016, when compared with July to December in 2015. The Aberdeen-based Press and Journal fell 9% to 51,900.  Controlled by the industry itself, the ABC audit organisation publishes figures for most newspapers classified as “regional” twice a year.

Local papers are audited once a year. Their sales were down by varying amounts.  One of those to suffer a lower decline in circulation, the Oban Times, this week announced it was going to start charging online readers for its content, through a subscription.

At the red-top tabloid end of the daily market, The Scottish Sun and Daily Record continue to battle for readers, although the London-headquartered Sun has been in a consistent lead.  A different format for reporting, covering August to January, showed the weekday sale of The Sun in Scotland below 200,000, and the weekday average of the Record was 144,000. The Record’s total sale was down 12% in a year.

As with other titles, the tabloids’ sale goes up markedly on Saturdays, even though the price is often also up at the weekend.  Sunday newspapers also saw declines. The Sunday Post sales in Scotland dropped to 109,000 in the year to January.  The Sunday Mail, sister paper of the Record, used to be Scotland’s biggest selling title, but has fallen to 161,600 in Scotland.

Scotland on Sunday was a sharp faller, by 27%, to 16,200 average weekly sales in the second half of 2016. Its Glasgow-based rival, the Sunday Herald, was down 16% to 21,000. It overtook Scotland on Sunday in 2014, after backing the independence cause.

Scotland’s city evening papers were down by between 11% for the Aberdeen Evening Express to 16% for the Edinburgh Evening News, selling 18,300. The capital’s local paper reported online traffic up, while the Glasgow Evening Times saw online visits up nearly 50%, at 75,000.

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