Success story on hold as weeklies are down

By Dominic Ponsford

Local weeklies have been the success story of the newspaper industry
in recent years – but this round of regional newspaper ABCs is the
second in a row where a majority have suffered circulation declines.
This compares with a year ago when 51 per cent of paid-for weeklies
enjoyed sales rises.

Press Gazette’s analysis of figures for the UK’s 480 regional
paid-for weeklies reveals an overall sales drop of 2.3 per cent from
5,149,905 to 5,031,376.

London is again the worst-hit area in the
country, with many papers dropping by more than 10 per cent. According
to some editors, a similar trend is being seen for national newspaper
circulations in the capital.

Lynne Anderson, from the Newspaper
Society, said: “These figures come at a difficult time, with regional
and local newspapers subject to the same market forces as other
consumer products and media. Despite this, a number of regional
newspapers have seen some very impressive results due to investment,
audience research and focusing on what their readers want.”

most impressive is the turnaround in fortunes for the Hackney Gazette,
one of 27 London weeklies bought by Archant from Independent News and
Media for £62m in January 2004. Its 9.8 per cent year-on-year increase
to 11,005 is a remarkable performance for a London paper and perhaps
provides evidence of what can be achieved if a neglected weekly is
given some attention by its publisher.

Archant London managing
editor Richard Thomson said: “When we took it over there had been a few
changes to mastheads and design over the previous two or three years.
It had lost its way a bit. We didn’t relaunch it but brought in a new
editor (Mick Ferris) and a redesign that just gradually brought it
forward. There’s also been better marketing, better presence in the
borough and there was a bit of slack to take up.”

The Hackney
Gazette was behind only the Foyle News in the Newspaper Society league
table of top performers. The Northern Ireland weekly grew 19 per cent
to 2,692.

The Frome and Somerset Standard boosted its sales by
10.6 per cent to 8,743 year-on-year after launching a new edition in
West Wiltshire.

Standard and Guardian series editor Joanna
Roughton said the editorial formula has been “very local news, strong
campaigning and providing a forum for debate on local issues”.

success of Orkney Today, launched in October 2003, provides evidence
that relatively small communities can support two paid-for weeklies.

It was up 3.2 per cent to 5,600, while established weekly The Orcadian was down 1.5 per cent to 10,773.

John Ross-Scott said: “We are going to show even more of an increase
next time. Our sales have increased on the mainland as well. The team
is very motivated: we have kept the team from three years ago and added
to it.”

The Worksop Guardian boosted its sale by 9.4 per cent to 16,790 by turning a sister free paper into a paid-for.”

George Robinson said: “We took one of our free titles covering the
neighbouring South Yorkshire area and turned into a full-blown 80-page
paidfor edition of the Worksop Guardian.”

According to the
Newbury Weekly News, changing from broadsheet to tabloid in January
helped turn a 1.1 per cent drop six months ago to a 1.3 per cent
increase, up to 25,367.!

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