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February 23, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:04am

ABCs: Regional daily newspapers see average print circulations decline 10% year-on-year

By Aisha Majid

Local daily newspaper sales in the UK fell by an average of 10% year-on-year in the second half of 2021 – according to the latest figures from ABC.

Non-dailies audited by ABC meanwhile saw their July to December circulations decline by an average of 15% compared to the same period in 2020, according to Press Gazette’s analysis.

Figures take into account paid print copies, paid print subscriptions and where relevant free copies and digital editions. The small number of digital subscriptions reported are also included as per the ABC headline figures.

Manchester Evening News was the only daily to buck the trend. The Reach title’s circulation increased 25% to 20,993 as it resumed giving out free copies to businesses. An average of 9,020 copies were provided for free per issue between July and December last year, compared to just 3,062 during the same period in 2020 as distribution was hit by the pandemic.

Overall, the hardest-hit dailies were the Yorkshire Evening Post, which saw circulation fall by 22% to 5,274, and three titles which each fell by 16%. The Nottingham Post fell to 7,088, the Teesside Gazette to 9,104 and Lancashire Post to 4,903.

All but nine of the 41 dailies that reported their circulations to ABC saw double-digit falls.

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The UK's most widely-read print title, Aberdeen’s Press & Journal, reported an average circulation of 30,330 (down 9%), while second-most read Belfast-based Irish News reached 27,730 people (a fall of 2%). DC Thompson’s The Courier’s circulation was 23,889 (down 10%).

Of the papers that saw a fall in circulation, Irish News reported the smallest decline.

While the overall decline was less significant than the 18% year-on-year fall in circulation daily papers recorded in the six months to the end of 2020, the latest data continues a longstanding trend of falling print readership that has hit the regional press particularly hard.

Online readership, however, reveals a more positive picture (see below).

The number of print titles reporting their data to ABC has declined in recent years. Just 41 dailies shared their circulation figures with ABC in this latest round, compared to 63 in 2017. Fewer non-dailies also report (282 now compared to 329 in 2017). Major publisher Newsquest pulled most of its titles from the auditor in 2019. Currently just six of Newsquest’s 22 titles make their circulation data public through ABC including two of its Daily Echo titles, Oxford Mail, Swindon Advertiser, Brighton Argus and York Press.

Circulations of a number of non-dailies were hard hit. JPI title Crawley Observer’s circulation was down 67% to 1,032. Fellow JPI title News Post Leader, which became a paid-for title in April, saw its circulation fall 98% to 445. They were among some 50 non-daily papers that saw circulation declines of more than 25% in 2021.

In contrast to its daily edition, MEN on Sunday’s circulation fell 4% to 5,583, including 1,461 free copies.

A number of free titles including Exmouth Journal (circulation of 11,830, down 39%) and West Sussex Mercury (10,789, down 36%) saw significant circulation drops last year. The biggest non-daily by circulation, Chronicle Week, also saw its circulation fall by 28% to 140,412.

Fourteen non-daily papers meanwhile reported year-on-year increases in circulation in 2021. JPI Media’s Stornoway Gazette saw the biggest gain with an average circulation of 2,698 (18% higher than 2020). Two other titles saw circulation boosts of at least 5%. Waltham Forest News was up 5% to 102,773 while Hunts Post was up 6% to 35,345. Other circulation gains were more modest.

Online audience growth

While print circulations tell a familiar story of decline, online regional press readership is growing - although ABC does not report online audiences.  Digital subscription data is, however, available for a small number of ABC-audited brands. Irish News has the highest number of digital subscribers reported to ABC (3,280) followed by Press and Journal (2,698) and The Courier (1,635).

While the UK’s biggest regional publisher Reach has stayed away from subscriptions, Newsquest is among the regional publishers that has opted to roll out digital paywalls and subscriptions.  Seventy of its larger sites went behind a paywall in spring 2020. The Gannett-owned publisher told Press Gazette last year that the new paywalls had had no
significant constraint on ongoing traffic growth.

When it comes to digital audience, the figures reveal a promising picture, particularly for the biggest regional brands. Data from digital intelligence platform Similarweb, shows that in December 2021 there were 30.1m visits from the UK to (an increase of 6% year-on-year), while there were 20m visits to (a 5% year-on-year increase) and 9.4m to (a 41% increase). Press Gazette has in its monthly top 50 news websites ranking regularly reported that regional news sites have been among the fastest growing in the UK with many of Reach's new Live brands seeing rapid audience gain.

Last year, Press Gazette also reported that in 2020 traffic to local news sites surged relative to traffic to national and international news sites, as people turned to local and regional news sources for information on the pandemic.

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