Andrew Neil: Some Scottish papers in terminal decline

Printing press

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Journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil has warned some of Scotland's leading newspapers are in terminal decline.

In a BBC interview, Mr Neil said papers such as The Herald and The Scotsman may not exist in their traditional form within 10 years.

Mr Neil was the publisher of The Scotsman in the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium.

Newspaper sales have been falling across the developed world, although many papers have well-read websites.

Mr Neil said he feared the paper he once worked on and its Glasgow rival were now in "terminal decline" and added: "I can't see a way that can be reversed."

His concern was that if sales and advertising continued to fall, it would be even harder for the titles to invest in journalism which competed against the UK national titles.

He predicted some titles would no longer be printed and that others could decline and lose standing.

Start Quote

It was a struggle every week to keep the circulation up and to invest in the papers... but they were not in the knacker's yard”

End Quote Andrew Neil Journalist and broadcaster

He added: "When we took over the Scotsman group in the mid-1990s, Scottish newspapers were still very important.

"The Scotsman and The Herald had healthy circulations. They were not in deep decline.

"It was a struggle every week to keep the circulation up and to invest in the papers... but they were not in the knacker's yard."

Responding to Mr Neil's comments on Newsnight Scotland, Jim Chisholm of the Scottish Newspaper Society said: "You can't deny the figures.

"But newspapers are evolving in their own right, circulation is only a small part of the definition of the business. Audiences are more stable in terms of readership."

According to new figures published on Friday, sales of some titles improved on July.

However many were still down on August last year, which is considered a more significant measure.

Over the 12 months, the Daily Record fell from 307,000 to 276,000 - of which 248,000 were in Scotland.

Andrew Neil Mr Neil is a former publisher of The Scotsman newspaper

The Scotsman fell from 42,000 to 36,000, while Scotland on Sunday declined from 55,000 to 43,000.

Monthly sales figures are no longer published for The Herald and Sunday Herald.

But the longer term trend has led some to believe the print industry is on borrowed time even if the famous brands and written journalism itself can adapt.

As recently as 2000, The Herald and The Scotsman both sold more than 90,000 copies a day while the Daily Record sold more than 600,000.

Since then sales and advertising have fallen across the industry.

Scottish newspapers have also faced an additional challenge as some UK-wide titles, especially the Daily Mail, made significant inroads into the Scottish market for the first time.

In 2006 sales of the Daily Record fell behind the Scottish edition of The Sun for the first time.

Declining sales

Newspaper executives often stress that declining sales should not be confused with declining readership or influence.

Analysis suggests some people may not buy a newspaper but will still read a friend's copy at work or in the pub while many newspaper websites are popular - and some titles are now available as downloads to iPads and iPhones.

These figures offer a much more encouraging picture of the industry's influence, if not necessarily its continuing commercial viability.

The concern of some is the potential to actually make significant amounts of money from the internet.

For instance, it is hard to charge for access to routine news stories if a rival is providing access to them for free.

And while readers may be happy to move online, the question is whether the money lost from traditional print sales and advertising can be balanced out by new revenue - at least to the extent that the same range and depth of written journalism survives, merely in a different electronic format.

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