Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

May 19, 2005 | 6 min read

Is parochialism such a bad thing? Take a look at newspaper sales and the answer is no. Local rags are on the rise while their national rivals suffer a continuing rot in distribution. The readers’ buying patterns are changing, and many an established title has reason to worry.

The conclusion from this turmoil in the ABC figures is that maybe Scotland’s national papers should stop trying to be all things to all readers, and focus instead on just covering the home patch well.

This idea may cause horror in the newsrooms of The Herald and The Scotsman. But it’ll be a whole lot worse if declining sales result in one title eventually being sold, and the long-entertained idea of a single ‘serious’ paper for central Scotland becomes a reality.

There are interesting things going on between national and local newspapers and within the national newspaper scene itself. Broadly, local newspapers are prospering while – equally broadly – nationals are not.

From the latest set of monthly circulation figures, the nationals in Scotland are in the grip of the following trends: First, Scottish editions of London-based titles are doing well. Second, Trinity Mirror titles in Scotland are not doing well. And third, while the Sunday ‘qualities’ market in Scotland is growing, it’s not nearly as dramatic as the decline of the Sunday tabloids one.

The Scottish Daily Mail is selling more than twice as many copies as The Scotsman, while The Sunday Times Scotland is out-selling both Scotland on Sunday and The Sunday Herald.

Meanwhile, The Herald is selling 12,000 more copies per day than The Scotsman and the gap between The Daily Record and The Scottish Sun has narrowed to 73,488.

In more detail, the Scottish Daily Mail comes in at 132,778, The Sunday Times Scotland 79,784, The Herald 77,922, Scotland on Sunday 77,537, the Sunday Herald 60,210, and The Scotsman at 65,713.

And it really hasn’t been a great few months for Trinity Mirror titles in Scotland. The Sunday Mail’s circulation is 7.7 per cent down on this time last year, the The Sunday Mirror’s 18.76 per cent down, and The Mirror 19.49 per cent down.

While the Daily Record comes in at impressive-looking 432,242 copies, its sales are still on the decline, almost seven per cent down on this time last year.

And all the while, the figures for the Scottish Daily Mail and The Sunday Times Scotland look, by comparison, positively robust. The decline in national newspaper sales is often attributed to increased availability of news and features elsewhere: on the internet, in magazines, on the telly. But, then again, it might be down to something else altogether, because local newspapers appear not to be suffering nearly as much from these alternative sources of news and entertainment.

This week is Local Newspaper Week. And according to the Newspaper Society, there is something of a renaissance going on among our local newspapers.

Says the Society, in its recent annual report: “The regional press is now a £3 billion advertising medium and more dynamic and innovative today that it has ever been in its 300 year history. Publishers have embraced internet and mobile phone technology, invested in a burgeoning range of vibrant new publications and multimedia platforms, and led advances in newspaper production and distribution.”

It continues: “Readership of core regional newspapers is growing and has now topped the 40 million mark – 85.4 per cent of the UK adult population. Consumer expenditure on regional newspapers is over £700m a year and growing. New local audiences are being reached through niche publications and local websites.”

Meanwhile, a report by the Future Foundation, entitled myuk, claims “that there is an increased appreciation of local differences among the UK population and a growing level of interest in local news and events, with 48 per cent of people being more interested in things that happened in the city or town where they lived.”

It concludes that “people are spending increasing amounts of time out and about in their region, and are becoming more attached to local culture in reaction to the standardising effect of globalisation.”

So, perhaps it’s not newsprint per se that’s putting people off. What of course the Scottish Daily Mail and The Sunday Times Scotland offer is a broader package than any exclusively Scotland-based newspaper could afford: they offer more pages and some of the UK’s best journalists. Which begs the question: if exclusively Scotland-based newspapers cannot afford to match or better what their London rivals are offering, then why bother trying?

At best, they are going to be pale imitations. The Guardian hardly bothers with Scotland and still sells almost 15,000 copies a day; ditto The Independent, which comes in at 12,066. An argument that they might enjoy disproportionate rewards by giving Scotland more than a cursory glance comes with The Times’ sales in Scotland of 30,145.

After all, it’s not as if Scotland is short of issues for commentators and serious journalists to get their teeth into. Take a rail journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central, survey this poor, clapped-out land of ours, and ask yourself if Scotland’s depopulation is not unrelated. Our economy is shrinking too, and we have real worries about our future energy supply. Yet, in the modern-day Scottish newspaper still locked in the past of trying to be all things to all people, there just isn’t the space for them.

Plans to merge The Herald and The Scotsman have been seriously considered by, among others, Scottish Media Group, the Thomson Group (owners of The Scotsman in the 1970s) and – according to former Sunday Herald editor, Andrew Jaspan – Andrew Neil. The notion has always been that this would be a commercial choice. With sales ‘going south’, it might be a commercial necessity.

The time may have come for both papers to switch direction. Am I the only person who wants more Scottish architecture and less George Clooney, more Scottish local politics and less international news, more Scottish sports policy and less Manchester United?

I probably am.

Mike Wilson is a director of the media website, www.allmediascotland.com


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