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Winners and losers reflect on ABC figures

Circulation figures yesterday told a number of stories – a tale of paid-for circulation falls at a handful of dailies now giving away many more copies, and the growing popularity of some very small community-minded weeklies.

The Reading Evening Post suffered a 21 per cent ABC fall in sales year-on-year, the results largely put down to a removal in bulk copies from the sale and a part-paid, part-free sales strategy.

Two years ago it began to home-deliver more than 80,000 free copies every Wednesday, while remaining on sale in newsagents, and in an extension of this strategy, more than 1,600 copies delivered to Reading’s hi-tech business parks five days a week.

The Liverpool Daily Post is also claiming to reach more readers, despite a 10.6 per cent year-on-year sales decline, with its own combined part-paid part-free strategy totalling more than 22,000 copies a day.

The title’s Monday to Friday ABC figure is 15,992, but its hybrid distribution model sees an additional 6,406 free copies a day issued in the city centre business district, targeted on the city’s core business readership.

The Manchester Evening News is still claiming to be the country’s biggest regional paper, despite paid-for sales falling more than any other evening title.

It sold an average 86,923 copies (Monday to Saturday) for the half-year to the end of June, but gave away almost 93,000 copies in the city centre, the free papers outnumbering paid-fors for the first time. It now claims a combined circulation of more than 181,000 copies.

There is more on the ups and downs of the results here.

Reading Evening Post editor Andy Murrill said that the number of free copies being distributed was rising every week.

He said: “This is an exciting time in the development of the Evening Post and this move puts our destiny firmly in our own hands.

“There are a great number of IT professionals who have recently moved to Reading, which has the fastest growing economy in the UK. We are now reaching these highly sought-after young people in addition to our traditional readership.

“Our part-paid, part-free strategy gives us a huge overall readership, which is triggering a fantastic response to our stories and advertisements.

“This, coupled with our fast-growing website – which has more than doubled its unique users in the past 12 months – means we are reaching more people than ever before and makes us the clear market leader serving Reading and its expanding economy.”

Liverpool Daily Post editor Mark Thomas said: “Our new hybrid distribution model is helping us to reach more new readers, and the profile of those readers shows we are effectively capturing our target audience.

“Independent research has shown that 87 per cent of the free copy readers fall into the ABC1 social grades and half are aged 25-44.

“Compared with the paid for readership this new audience is younger and more upmarket and, in addition, more than half of the free copy readership had never read the title before.”

GMG Regional Media chief executive Mark Dodson said of the Manchester Evening News: “We are pleased with the combined paid for and pick-up circulation for the Manchester Evening News, and our maintained position as the largest regional daily newspaper.

“When we took the decision to offer pick-up as well as paid for copies, we made a commitment to advertisers to maintain the readership of the paper.

Five small Johnston Press weekly titles in Scotland, along with three Dunfermline Press papers, saw modest circulation rises. All sell less than 10,000.

Both Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror are moving forward with launching many more niche websites, many based around an area covered by a single post code, in a bid to capture a share of this market.

In England, gains were made at the Hemsworth & South Elmsall Express (6,444, up 27.9 per cent), the Hornsey Journal Series (6,046, up 9.5 per cent) and the Pocklington Post (4,493, up 4.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, at the Birmingham Mail, editor Steve Dyson says there is also cause for celebration – with a 11 per cent swing to a 4.9 per cent fall, compared to the 17.1 per cent drop in sales which it saw in the first half of 2006.

Steve told holdthefrontpage: “It has steadily got better and we now have our best figure in five years.

“It has not been a sudden swing. A relaunch initially unsettled the market and since then we have been edging forward month by month and we are very pleased.”

He said at the same time as trying to maximize print sales, work was also ongoing on its online offering, with blogs and video journalism, but the print product was still a priority.

He said: “At all times the main thing we are concentrating on is producing the best paper in the Midlands and that is what we are doing.”

Sister paper The Birmingham Post was one of the few dailies to record an increase, with Monday to Friday sales up 1.5 per cent to 13,150 year-on-year.

Editor Marc Reeves said: “It’s a just reward for the magnificent efforts of what must be one of the most dedicated journalistic teams in the regional press. Time after time they deliver the goods with simply superb journalism which goes to the very heart of the concerns of The Post’s very demanding readership.

“We’ve packed a lot into this period, and it’s therefore very heartening to see positive results come through in the ABC figures. However, the market for daily regional newspapers remains very competitive, and the next big challenge for us is to move all the strengths of the Post very firmly on to digital platforms so the title can serve the needs of new generations of readers.”

The Swindon Advertiser also bucked the downward trend, up two per cent to 22,763.

Acting editor Pauline Leighton said: “This a tremendous tribute to staff – they work tooth and nail to produce a great paper every day.

“And let’s not forget our sales and marketing team, who pull out all the stops to ensure our fabulous front pages reach the stands dead on time and the places they are supposed to reach.”