Scotland

Press bar demolition points to print decline

press bar

It almost seems symbolic of the continuing fall in traditional newspaper sales.

An application has been made to demolish the Press Bar in Glasgow's Albion Street - a watering hole for journalists for many generations.

The bar is next to a building synonymous with Scotland's newspaper heritage.

The black clad building - now flats and offices - was once home to the Scottish Daily Express and later The Herald.

So just as the last pint may soon be pulled in the Press Bar, is the day when the last newspaper is printed becoming inevitable?

Image caption The Albion Street offices were home to the Scottish Daily Express and The Herald

Predictions that the last newspapers in the western world may be printed in the 2020s may seem like the stuff of fantasy and futurologists but unless current trends are halted or reversed, the forecasts may not be completely wide of the mark either.

2016 saw the end of The Independent as a printed paper although it continues online. Might some of Scotland's titles go the same way?

The fall in Scottish newspaper sales shows few sign of stopping, according to an analysis of sales figures.

Most popular papers have seen significant falls in their sales during 2016.

Image copyright Times
Image caption The Times now outsells The Scotsman in Scotland

Meanwhile, perhaps the most symbolic development was that Scottish sales of The Times went ahead of The Scotsman's for the first time.

Newspaper publishers argue raw sales data do not tell the whole story.

They also point to the number of readers papers may have and people who look at their websites.

However the drop in the number of people buying most newspapers - with implications for a company's sales receipts and knock-on implications for advertising - continues.

The situation in Scotland is reflected across the rest of the UK and much of the developed world. Most papers are experiencing significant, ongoing declines. To maintain circulation, far less boost it, is an achievement.

BBC Scotland looked at the sales figures for daily papers which circulate widely across the whole of Scotland - mostly covering November.

The two most popular daily papers have lost at least 30,000 sales between them over the past year.

Image copyright The Scotsman
Image caption The first edition of The Scotsman was published in January 1817

In November, the Daily Record sold 161,400 on a typical day - down from 181,150 in November 2015.

As recently as August 2011, the Record sold more than 300,000 copies a day.

If the trend of recent years were to continue, the print edition of the Daily Record could vanish within six years although it is reasonable to assume its owners, Trinity Mirror, and its staff will do everything in their power to stop this happening.

Its main rival, The Scottish Sun, sells significantly more but the decline over the past year has been steeper by some measures.

The Scottish Sun had a circulation of 205,500 in November but this includes 22,000 so-called multiple copies which are, in effect, given away. Last November's figure was 216,500 but only a few hundred were given away.

When The Sun overtook the Record to become Scotland's top-selling paper in 2006, both sold roughly 400,000 copies.

In the middle market, the picture is more mixed.

Image copyright Daily Mail
Image caption The Scottish Daily Mail had a circulation of almost 82,000 in November

The Scottish Daily Mail had a circulation of almost 82,000 in November - down from 87,000 a year earlier.

The monthly Scottish Daily Express figure was 42,000 - up from 40,500.

The quality market, perhaps, has seen the most significant development.

The Times now sells more copies than The Scotsman while its overall circulation, once giveaway copies are included, is biting on the ankles of The Herald.

Until relatively recently, the two main Scottish titles dominated the quality market north of the border.

The headline circulation of The Times in Scotland was 27,000 - including 8,000 giveaways. A year earlier it was 22,000 with nearly 1,900 giveaways.

Its historic rival, the Daily Telegraph sold around 14,500, against just under 16,000 a year earlier.

Image copyright The Herald

The two main Scottish national quality papers do not issue monthly sales figures.

Their last figures cover the period from January to June. During that period The Scotsman's circulation was 20,300 including 2,250 giveaways. The Herald's was 30,400.

The Herald's stablemate the National, which was launched in November 2014 as a pro-independence daily newspaper, is not included in the official figures.

Sunday papers show similar trends. Scotland on Sunday had a circulation of 19,000 between January and June but at the turn of the millennium weekly sales of more than 120,000 were not uncommon. The Sunday Herald sold slightly more than 21,500 over the same period.

It's fair to point out that until Scotland on Sunday was founded in 1988 there had been no lasting upmarket Sunday paper in Scotland so it would be hard to paint their declines with quite the same symbolism.

Not so the Sunday Post. Once it was so widely read it had a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Today it sells 145,000 copies in total, of which 110,000 are in Scotland.

A respectable sale nowadays for a paper which claims a close relationship with its readers but still modest by the standards of old. Even at the millennium its circulation was 650,000.

None of this is unique to Scotland. Across the whole UK, the Daily Record's sister paper the Daily Mirror now sells fewer copies than the Record once did in Scotland. In the 80s, the Record sold about 750,000 copies a day.

Newspaper publishers point to their websites to show how products can adapt. They also stress that falling sales should not be confused with declining influence - people read papers bought by other people or read the stories online.

There can be opportunities. A local newspaper in Dumfries and Galloway, the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser was due to be published for the last time this month. It is being kept going while an attempt to sell it to a community business continues.

Some would argue the events of 2016 - the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump and concern about fake news on social media websites - mean the need for reliable journalism and a diverse range of newspapers across the developed world is greater than ever.

If nothing else newspapers - like broadcasters - traditionally held a certain influence in society.

What they said mattered, even if you disagreed with it or even despaired.

A liberal person may be aware of what the Daily Mail believes - a social conservative might want to know what The Guardian thinks.

In cyberspace, it is easy for someone to simply look for the stories which back up their opinions or preconceived view of the world even if some of those stories may be totally false.

*figures have generally been rounded up or down to the nearest 500.

More on this story