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Regional ABCs: All titles see circulation drops in first half of 2022 but small uptick in free copies

By Aisha Majid

The UK’s regional print daily newspapers saw their circulations fall by an average of 16% year-on-year in the first six months of 2022.

Of the 52 titles that have reported data to ABC so far in 2022, 40 reported data for the first six months of 2021 as well. Every one of those titles saw their circulation fall and we  calculated the overall decline on the basis of those titles that reported data for both years.

The drops come against a backdrop of long-term print circulation declines for local and regional publications: the majority of titles have seen their circulations fall by more than 40% compared to five years ago.

DC Thomson’s Aberdeen title Press & Journal was again the UK’s top-selling regional newspaper with a circulation of 28,482, a 10% decline on the first six months of last year. 

It was followed by the Irish News, which fell by 3% to 27,096, and fellow DC Thomson title The Courier, which saw its circulation fall by 12% to 22,168. 

Irish News recorded the smallest decline of any title.

Reach’s Manchester Evening News and National World’s The Scotsman  were the only other two titles to see falls in single figures. The MEN’s circulation fell by 8% to 20,286, while The Scotsman’s average circulation fell by 9% to 17,013.

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Roughly half the MEN’s circulation was via free copies distributed to businesses and for pick up in the city centre – although Reach announced this month that it was stopping free copies of the paper. The title’s paid-for circulation fell by 17% from 13,139 to 10,911.

The majority of titles reporting to ABC saw year-on-year double-digit drops in circulation.

The biggest circulation fall was recorded by Reach’s Hull Daily Mail which fell 20% from 12,798 in the first six months of last year to 10,232 this year.

National World’s The Yorkshire Evening Post (circulation of 4,796), Reach’s Plymouth title The Herald (6,430) and Teesside Gazette (8,177) saw circulation drops of 19% each.

Across the titles that reported first-half data for both 2021 and 2022, all categories of circulation declined with the exception of free copies which saw a 5% boost, likely driven by the end of pandemic-related restrictions in 2020 and 2021 and a return to city centres and office working.

Only a handful of daily titles reporting to ABC provide free copies, among them the Manchester Evening News, Shropshire Star and Brighton’s The Argus. 

Among distribution categories, paid single copies were hard hit as their total combined average circulation fell by 15%. Fewer subscription copies were also circulated, although they were hit less, down 11% year-on-year in the first six months of 2022. 

While only a minority of publications share digital subscription data with ABC, three titles stood out among this group reporting a small increase in circulation via this platform.

Irish News saw a 11% boost in digital subscriptions (3,424). Smaller increases were seen at Aberdeen’s Press & Journal (1% increase  year-on-year, 2,808 digital subscriptions) and Dundee’s The Courier (6% increase, 1,732 subscriptions).  

While digital subscriptions to regional titles have largely failed to make up for the fall in print, many publishers have seen strong website traffic.

According to data from Ipsos iris, the sites in Reach’s portfolio recorded 1.29 billion page views in July - an increase of 7% compared to June. The advertising-supported publisher has also consistently ranked among the UK’s top online organisations for audience, regularly reaching over three-quarters of UK internet users aged over 15, although Reach earlier this year reported a fall in profits. 

National World meanwhile grew digital revenue by 41% year-on-year to £8.2m in the first half of 2022, boosted by a 14% increase in digital subscription revenue and 15.6 million average monthly page views.

As with other sectors, not all UK regional dailies are audited by ABC. Fifty-two titles reported half-year circulation data to ABC in 2022. A number of titles owned by Newsquest, which earlier this year completed a deal to acquire Archant, did not report January to June data for 2021.

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