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ABCs: Regional dailies see average print decline of 19% (but online looking brighter)

Data reveals large drops in UK regional print circulation, although some brands' online audiences have grown.

By Aisha Majid

Local daily newspaper sales in the UK fell by an average of 19% year-on-year in the second half of 2022 according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC).

Non-dailies audited by ABC meanwhile saw their January to December circulations decline by an average of 13% compared to the same period in 2021, according to Press Gazette’s analysis.

Comment: Regional press ABCs: Print decline is funding digital future]

These overall decline figures are missing some titles, however, so do not give a complete picture. We have calculated these declines on the basis of total average circulation for titles that reported data in both 2021 and 2022.

Newsquest pulled most of its titles from ABC in 2019 but returned several titles to the system last year. It published data for 23 daily titles for 2022, compared to six in 2021. This includes a few titles such as The Ipswich Star and Norwich Eastern Daily Press that came into Newsquest’s fold following its acquisition of Archant in March 2022 which are included in our calculation. Many of the publisher’s titles do not, however, have comparable data for 2021 so have been excluded from our headline totals.

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The 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.

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Every daily title that submitted comparable data saw a year-on-year decline in circulation in the last six months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

​​The Irish News (average circulation of 25,398) reported the smallest decline at 8%. This made it the only one of the 41 daily titles that reported their circulations to ABC in both 2021 and 2022 not to see a double-digit fall.

It was followed by National World’s The Scotsman (average circulation of 8,762, down 11%) and Aberdeen’s Press & Journal (average circulation of 26,746, down 12%) published by DC Thomson.

Hardest hit was the Manchester Evening News, which had been the only paper to buck the trend of decline in 2021. The title’s circulation fell 44% from 20,993 to 11,726, driven by a large fall in the number of free copies distributed from 9,029 on average in the second half of 2021 to 2,315 in 2022. Reach made the decision to end free copies of the newspaper in August last year.

Also particularly hard-hit were four other Reach titles. The Teesside Gazette’s circulation was down 27% from 9,104 to 6,674. Down by 27% each were Plymouth’s The Herald (circulation of 7,234) and Coventry Telegraph (4,488) while Hull Daily Mail was down 28% from 11,621 to 8,393.

The biggest daily by readership was Aberdeen’s Press & Journal (average circulation of 26,746, down 12%). Second-most read was Irish News, while third was DC Thomson’s The Courier’s (20,682 (down 13%).

While print circulations have been hard hit, some publishers have seen digital traffic boosts and a small number are also starting to see success with online paywalls in local news (scroll down to find out more on digital audience figures).

While the number of print titles reporting their data to ABC has declined in recent years, this year saw an uptick in reports. Fifty-five dailies shared their circulation figures with ABC in this latest round, compared to 41 in 2021, while 415 non-dailies reported, also up on recent years, with Newsquest again driving the bulk of resumed reports this year.

Among non-dailies, Newsquest’s mostly free Hunts Post (down 62% from 35,345 to 21,791) and its Herts Advertiser (down 65% from 28,941 to 17,500) saw the biggest drops. They were among five non-daily papers that saw circulation declines of more than 50%, while a further 97 saw drops of at least 25%.

At the other end of the table, Newsquest free titles Stevenage Comet (circulation up 46% to 37,233) and North London’s Ham and High Express (up 39% to 6,433) saw the biggest circulation gains.

The other titles to make significant gains were also free titles. Love Hackney (published by the London Borough of Hackney) saw circulation up 9% to 100,756, fellow borough-published title Waltham Forest News saw its circulation up 8% to 112,290, and Newsquest’s Newham Recorder was up 4% to 6,025 copies.

Iliffe’s Stratford Herald (up 1% to 5,836) was the only largely paid-for title to see a circulation boost.

The biggest non-dailies by circulation in 2022 were the two London borough-published titles Waltham Forest News and Love Hackney, which knocked last year’s largest title, Chronicle Week (circulation of 93,645), to third position.

Online audience growth

Online audience data from Ipsos iris suggests that while print readership is falling, some brands are seeing growth in their online audiences. Of the 169 UK regional digital brands for which Ipsos iris has data for both January 2022 and January 2023, 91 saw an increase in audience size.

Among the brands with the biggest growth in audience year-on-year were National World’s Sussex World. The site, which launched in March last year bringing together 16 former local news sites, saw its audience increase 874% from 110,869 to 1.1 million visitors. Newsquest’s Northern Echo was up 100% to 1,817,420, while the York Press was up 95% year-on-year to 952,935.

The UK's biggest commercial publisher Reach owns the three UK regional brands with the biggest digital reach. Topping the list is Manchester Evening News (audience of 16.2 million in January 2023). It was followed by Liverpool Echo (10.7 million) and Birmingham Live (10.4 million).

When it comes to online engagement, 83 of the brands with data for both January 2022 and 2023 saw an increase in total minutes spent with their digital content.

Among the better-known gainers were the Yorkshire Evening Post (up 43% year-on-year as users spent 9.2 million minutes with its content), Sheffield Star (up 50% to 8.2 million minutes) and the Belfast Telegraph (up 71% to 7.7 million minutes). Many large names however saw year-on-year falls in engagement, among them Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo and Wales Online despite audience gains.

Ipsos’ brand group data for regional news brands is based only on the websites, apps and distributed content considered to be news, so brand group total audience may differ from figures we have shared for these regional titles in other reports as some brands may publish websites Ipsos does not categorise under "newspapers".

While paywalls are still uncommon in UK local news, a number of publishers have opted to put them in place. Newsquest rolled out digital paywalls and subscriptions for 70 of its larger sites in spring 2020, among them Brighton Argus and Oxford Mail. The UK regional publishing giant reported last year that it had surpassed 50,000 paid online readers.

DC Thomson meanwhile counts 25,000 digital subscribers across its local titles, and Mediahuis Ireland and Highland News and Media also recently shared with Press Gazette how they were rolling out digital paywalls for their UK local news coverage.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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