Macmillan Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

December 17, 2004 | 9 min read

Writing about the Scottish press can be a dispiriting task. There is rarely good news to report, only the occasional chink of light among the gloom of ever declining circulation figures. But that is the state we’re in. It has been a disappointing year. Newspaper sales continue to disappear like snow off a dyke, and nobody seems able to stop them.

Scotland’s best-selling newspapers, the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, have seen their circulations drop throughout 2004, but they remain dominant titles. The Record has been transformed by Bruce Waddell and his team.

November’s ABC figures showed a 4.7 per cent decline year on year. However, the Record’s sale of 439,727 was 1,762 more than in October.

“Standing still in the red-top market is a triumph, so Bruce is doing very well,” one rival editor says of Waddell. Although the Record’s lead over the Scottish Sun had fallen below 100,000 in the previous two months, it remains a significant gap.

The Sunday Mail has also had a better year than its News International-owned rival, the News of the World. While the latter put on sales throughout 2003, it has not prospered this year.

November’s ABC figures show an 8.6 per cent drop compared to the Sunday Mail’s 2.7 per cent decline. The latter’s traditional tabloid journalism, with a focus on hard news and sport, has proved more popular than the News of the World’s celebrity-led agenda. The gulf between the two papers is currently 228,537 sales every week.

This year (2004) has also seen Scotland catch up with England, with the Scotsman and the Press and Journal joining the compact revolution. With the P&J deciding to make its Saturday tabloid a permanent fixture, it is probably only a matter of time until the paper does the same Monday to Friday.

The Times of London has shown that any tactic capable of bolstering circulation will eventually supplant the concerns of those who prefer broadsheets. Increased sales on a Saturday, compared with a four per cent drop in the latest six-monthly ABC figures, indicate that readers in the North are likely to see a fully compact P&J some time in 2005.

However, the most successful newspapers in Scotland this year were undoubtedly the Scottish Daily Mail and its stablemate, the Scottish Mail on Sunday. Both have consistently notched sales increases month after month. Although November showed a negligible 0.1 per cent decline year on year, the Mail was still 3,349 copies up on 2002’s sales figures – no other full-price, paid-for daily newspaper in Scotland can make that claim.

The Mail on Sunday has done even better – selling 3,423 more copies in November 2004 than 12 months previously, when the figure was 12,165 more than in 2002. Consistent investment in editorial, marketing and promotions has delivered increased circulation. It is at times like this that I hear the powers that be at rival newspapers complaining that any title’s circulation will rise if they give away CDs.

Indeed, but this is the market in which Scottish papers exist. Newspapers are undoubtedly facing a tough future but they still make millions in advertising. Associated Newspapers’ determination to increase its market share puts its indigenous rivals to shame. Rival newspapers should shed their blinkers and deal with reality for, just as the Independent triggered a shift towards smaller quality newspapers in 2003, this year has seen the London-based quality press make regular jumps into the tabloid jungle of free CD and DVD offers.

They will continue to pressurise Scotland-based titles, with competition among enhanced reader offers likely to intensify in 2005.

So, will the Herald enter the giveaway contest? Not if Tim Blott has anything to do with it. The managing director of Newsquest (Herald & Times) is undoubtedly a sharp operator when it comes to balance sheets but journalists at the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times think less favourably of his vision for the papers. They are still wondering what it is.

“Investment for the long term” has been Mr Blott’s mantra since Newsquest bought the titles in April 2003, but staff at the papers no longer accept his assurances. NUJ members are less than pleased that features pages have been cut from the weekday Herald and, by knocking back a three per cent pay offer, they have registered their disquiet. It was always going to take Newsquest the first 12 to 18 months of its ownership to knock the Herald, Sunday Herald and the Evening Times into the Newsquest mould. With that time elapsed, Blott is likely to make significant strategical changes during 2005. And so he should. The Herald is a sleeping giant that needs reform.

Its sales performance in 2004 has been better than the industry average but it is still unremarkable. There continues to be a gulf in quality between the Saturday Herald and the other five days of the week, where inconsistency plagues the title. However, the recent change from regional to national auditing leaves us in an incongruous position when assessing its circulation.

Scottish sales for the last four months have been consistent, with figures of 79,685, 79,513, 78,238 and 79,066 respectively. This is substantially less than the last six-monthly regionally audited figure, which showed sales of 83,383, Monday to Friday, and 83,813 on Saturdays. However, it is not a like-for-like comparison.

Circulation at the Sunday Herald fluctuated during Andrew Jaspan’s final months in the job, but November’s sales figure of 59,273 was marginally above the last regionally audited sale of 59,158.

Similarly, November’s ABC nationally audited circulation was only 165 copies down on last year’s figure but, as with the Herald, this is not a like-for-like comparison. Recent changes to the paper’s features and comment sections were instituted under Jaspan’s command and, while new editor Richard Walker has appointed two deputy editors and new sports and news editors, all were internal promotions. It is too early to ponder Walker’s long-term plans for the paper, because improvements are largely dependent on whether Blott allocates an increased budget in 2005.

The often overlooked Glasgow Evening Times, meanwhile, has, arguably, been Newsquest’s most successful newspaper this year. Evening papers in Newcastle, London and Manchester registered actively purchased sales declines as high as 13 per cent in the first six months of 2004, but the Evening Times’ circulation of 95,121 was only 0.67 per cent down year on year.

Considering that it competes head to head with the Daily Record, the Scottish Sun, and other tabloids as well as the giveaway Metro, this is a phenomenal performance.

The paper’s long-term prospects are enviable, with nearly half of Evening Times readers aged below 40, and women making up 55 per cent of its circulation, according to the latest NRS (National Readership Survey) figures. The year-long Save the Queen Mum’s campaign was also a notable triumph for the paper’s editor, Charles McGhee.

In Edinburgh, The Scotsman Publications is beginning to adjust to the recent and unprecedented job swap among senior editors and executives on its newspapers the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News.

The Scotsman’s actively purchased circulation in Scotland has stabilised between 60,000 and 61,000 since it went fully compact in August. Publisher Andrew Neil, however, recently told the Independent that a marketing push in January aims to increase sales. A change in format has stabilised a previously sliding circulation but it has been a costly exercise, with £900,000 lost in advertising revenues.

After three years at the helm, John McLellan left Scotland on Sunday in good shape for new editor Iain Martin, who took over at the end of last month. But when 1,793 bulks are stripped out of November’s ABC return it can be seen that actively purchased sales of the Sunday Times Scotland have again overtaken SoS, with 76,895 copies compared to SoS’s 76,538. This has given Martin, whose early changes include scrapping the Clype diary, his first challenge since leaving the Scotsman.

The London-based quality press has had a good year. Much has been made of the Times’ sales turnaround since going fully compact. November’s ABC figures show it has more full-price British sales than the Daily Telegraph, proof again that smaller papers sell, especially when accompanied by free DVDs.

In Scotland, sales are up 7.8 per cent, 2,046 copies, compared with 2003. Seven months after the Independent went compact only in Scotland it continues to sell more than 8,000 copies a day, which is nearly double its previous circulation. And five-and-a-half years after devolution the Telegraph (22,489) and the Guardian (14,289) continue to hold readers. With only minimal editorial costs in Scotland’s notoriously competitive newspaper market, this is proof that quality journalism will always sell.

On balance, though, opportunities remain for the most ambitious Scottish newspaper executives. It is likely that 2005 will see intense competition between Scotland on Sunday, the Sunday Herald, and the Sunday Times Scotland. The Daily Record and the Scottish Sun will continue to brazen it out, but the most interesting circulation battle to watch will be among the quality dailies.

The Herald and the Scotsman lumber on year after year like two wounded lions engaged in a pride struggle, both lacking the necessary guile to win. The doubts linger. Will the Herald remain a broadsheet? Will the compact Scotsman remain a quality newspaper at heart?

Actively purchased Scottish sales of the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent totalled 73,188 in November this year, up 6.7 per cent, from 68,571, in 2003. The Herald and the Scotsman have both lost readers in that period. These two papers more than anyone else must do better in 2005.


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