Scotland

Two daily newspaper titles buck downward trend in sales

Scotsman and Times front pages

Two Scotland-wide daily newspaper titles have bucked the downward trend of sales, using cut-price subscriptions and giveaway copies.

The Scotsman and The Times edition in Scotland both put on sales during 2017, according to the most recent industry figures.

The Times had distribution of more than 29,000 copies on the average weekday, up by 8%.

Of these, 14,500 were bought at full price.

Subscriptions of at least £4 per week accounted for 4,400, and "paid multiple" copies - given away for free - for 10,000.

The Scotsman had circulation of nearly 20,000. Of those, fewer than 10,000 were conventional full price sales.

A further 5,000 were on subscription and 5,000 more were made freely available at airports and hotels.

The Scotsman's stablemate, Scotland on Sunday, was also up by 1%, to 16,300 average weekly sales.

Its Glasgow-based rival, the Sunday Herald, which soared ahead in sales after embracing the pro-Scottish independence cause in the year of the referendum, saw weekly sales averaging 18,400 last year.

Under the same US ownership, The National had 7,800 average sales - down 9% - with 2,000 digital subscriptions.

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The figures were included in recent publications by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

It produces monthly figures for papers classified as national. Most regional and local titles are audited annually.

Only a few newspapers have their digital editions and social media audited, to show that their readership goes far beyond the conventional print editions.

For the Johnston Press-owned Scotsman, which makes most of its content free to online readers, that meant an average of 117,000 daily unique browsers.

The Herald online, which has limited free access and subscriptions for access to content from The Herald, had 81,200 daily browsers.

Some of the London-based titles with free access news websites have very large numbers of daily browsers, led by the Daily Mail online, with 12.4 million in Britain.

The UK figures included The Sun's website, with five million daily users. The Independent, which ceased printing to focus on its online edition, can claim 4.5 million.

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Other Scottish newspapers saw continuing declines of print sales during last year.

The Sunday Post, which used to be a world leader in terms of market penetration, saw its Scottish sales fall below 95,000 in January.

Until the 1990s, the Daily Record was by far Scotland's biggest selling daily title. At the end of last year, it averaged 137,000, down by 14% on 2016.

The red top's editor, Murray Foote, quit his post and left on Friday.

Its arch-rival, the Scottish edition of the Sun, continued to lead daily circulation, with 188,000 average sales in the latter part of 2017, down 10%.

Their weekly stablemates were in a close fought tussle. The Sunday Mail, sister paper of the Record, saw sales fall 16% to 143,000, while the Sun on Sunday registered a 10% drop to 146,000.

City daily titles

Among the city-based daily titles, the Press and Journal had audited circulation of 48,200, down by 7%. According to the ABC figures, it was Britain's highest circulation paid-for "regional" title.

The Courier in Dundee was down 9% to 35,800 by the end of last year, and in Glasgow, the Herald fell 10% to 25,900.

Scotland's evening newspapers registered sales down by between 9% and 12% during the year.

Of the local and weekly papers included in the annual figures, the steeper falls included the Hamilton Advertiser, down 13% to 8,400 sales, and the Highland News, down 17% to 3,200.

Better performers included the Oban Times, down 4% to 10,300, and the East Lothian Courier, down 3% at nearly 10,000.

Analysis by Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland business and economy editor

Pity the newspaper editors. They face falling print sales figures, which give them little credit for their reach into online audiences.

Proprietors tend towards believing that the best response is to cut costs, undermining the quality of the product they're selling.

Less obviously, they face a ferocious squeeze on advertising.

And consolidation is under way. The owner of the Daily Record and the Mirror this week took over the Express titles and the Daily Star. The first people out the door were two editors of the latter.

When the Herald and Evening Times in Glasgow restructured, it wasn't just to cut reporters and sub-editors, but to axe the editors' posts, and put the editor-in-chief onto the newsroom floor.

The fall in circulation has been under way for years, as readers have turned to online and social media to get their news. A 2016 Deloitte study found the average revenue from a digital user is £15, and for a print reader £124.

Pincer movement

The more recent pincer movement has been from Google and Facebook, which are soaking up a large share of conventional news publishers revenue, and using their muscle to control the valuable audience data being generated.

The industry complains that these tech giants have barged into advertising markets, soaking up the content for which publishers have paid. They don't have the requirements placed on publishers, insisting they are, by contrast, merely technology platforms.

Local papers have been given some modest help with their costs, through 100 reporters funded through the BBC licence fee to cover local councils and help keep the councillors accountable.

A recent survey found roughly two-thirds of local government councils in Britain have no local paper to cover them, though there is more of a deficit in England than in Scotland, and English titles have been closed or merged at a much higher rate.

Editors can also hope that Whitehall's pressure on Big Tech could have some good results. That's partly to clean up its act on offensive, illegal, and radicalising material.

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