Relaunch fails Brighton Argus, whilereader interaction works on Teesside

By Dominic Ponsford

Plummeting sales at the Evening Argus in Brighton may provide a warning about the wisdom of embarking on radical relaunches.

Last February, Newquest invested heavily in an upmarket relaunch of
the Argus with a Daily Mail-style redesign aimed at luring in more
upmarket younger readers. Much of the community news and news in briefs
was dropped and reporters were told to aim their stories at a
35-year-old mother of two with a businessman husband.

The result
has been a 9.7 per cent drop in Monday to Friday circulation to 38,361.
Twelve months ago year-onyear decline at the paper was running at 5.8
per cent.

Elsewhere in the evening market there are crumbs of
comfort – the tide of market decline is being stubbornly held back in a
handful of centres. Seven out of the country’s 82 regional evenings
have put on sales.

The average circulation drop continues to run
at around 3.5 to four per cent and is well above five in places. Taken
on their own, the year-on-year sales drops paint a bleaker picture than
is in fact the case, as the latest figures continue to reflect a
reduction in the number of bulk giveaway copies allowed by ABC.

instance, the Yorkshire Evening Post may be 15.4 per cent down (to
68,635)n but now all those copies are actual sales,whereas a year ago
just 90 per cent were.

At the Birmingham Evening Mail, where
Monday to Friday sales have dropped 10.5 per cent to 96,143 but the cut
in bulks has been about one per cent, it has ended in a change of

Among the circulation winners, the Teesside Gazette
reported its second consecutive year-on-year rise – proving that it is
possible for big metropolitan dailies to put on sales (even if it is
the only one currently doing so).

Editor Steve Dyson explained
its yearon- year increase of 0.5 per cent to 58,446 by saying:
“Teesside is a great news area and the team here responds by giving
readers every cough and spit of news, sport and comment. We currently
have half a dozen campaigns regularly prompting readers to take part in
opinion- forming, through public meetings, emails and letters. The
result is more people buying the paper six days a week to see
themselves in print.”

There may also be something in the water on
Teesside, as neighbouring daily the Hartlepool Mail also managed a
small increase, up 0.3 per cent to 20,719 (its actively purchased sale
was up a more impressive 0.9 per cent).

Top-performing evening
paper in the country was the Dorset Evening Echo with a 2.3 per cent
rise, closely followed by the Carlisle News & Star, which was up
two per cent.

Remarkably for an evening paper, the Star’s current sale of 25,540 is higher now than it was in 2000.

Keith Sutton said the increase is partly down to bringing the first
edition time forward 45 minutes to 10.05am, which means the paper is in
WH Smiths, Tesco and Marks & Spencer by 10.30am.

He added:
“The biggest thing we’ve done is increase the number of letters and
vox-pops. We have a double-page spread of vox-pops on single issues
each day with 10 to 12 people.

“We also take opinions from the
message board on our website and stick them on the letters page using
only the web nicknames – there can be some quite wacky stuff.”

News & Star has also increased its minimum pagination from 32 to
40, increased the number of columns from five to six in order to make
the page look busier and improved the presentation of page leads.

The South Wales Argus managed its ninth consecutive year-on-year ABC increase, up 0.3 per cent to 30,788.

Gerry Keighley said: “I think the Argus has beaten the industry trend
because we keep a simple focus on local news, sport, local info and
great pictures well used. We believe we know what the readers want,
based on experience and information, and we give it to them.”

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