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Circulation up for part paid-for weekly titles

Newspapers using a part free, part paid-for model would appear to hold the key to the future of UK weekly newspaper titles.

Today’s ABC figures for the period December 2010 to June 2011 show that most weekly titles saw a dip in circulation figures,  with just 26 paid-for titles seeing an increase in average sale.

Topping the league is Newsquest title the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian with a 27.1pc rise compared to the same period the previous year, followed by the Bracknell News with 13.6pc.

The Wanstead and Woodford title is 65pc paid for, meaning it gives away just over a third of its copies for free.

The biggest increases however were seen by newspapers that give most of their copies away while retaining a small element of paid-for circulation – classified by the ABC as frees.

Titles such as Northcliffe’s part paid-for Croydon Advertiser, which gives away 84.6pc of its copies for free, saw an increase of 397.1pc – a total of 61,949 copies – compared to the same six month period last year.

Trinity Mirror title The Harrow Observer enjoyed the biggest increase with circulation up by 874.4pc. The newspaper is distributed free to 93.5pc of its readers.

Other free titles that performed well included the Maghull and Aintree Star with a 49pc increase, and the Portsmouth Journal which saw a 123.8pc rise in circulation.

Overall, the majority of paid- for titles saw a decline in circulation, while the biggest increase was among free titles, though a number of free weekly newspapers did suffer a decline in circulation.

The East Hull and Holderness Advertiser saw figures down by -43.1pc, The Herald in Yorkshire was down by -36.2pc, and the Northants Mercury and Citizen was down -32.3pc.

The following paid-for newspapers  have seen an increase in circulation:


  Wanstead & Woodford Guardian 4,354 27.1%
  Bracknell News 3,683 13.6%
  Lowestoft Journal 16,606 6.5%
  Ely Standard 6,314 5.1%
  Great Yarmouth Mercury 17,032 4.9%
  The Leader 3,703 4.8%
  Beccles & Bungay Journal 6,671 4.0%
  Ellesmere Port Pioneer 3,994 3.4%
  Tyrone Herald 6,733 3.1%
  Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News 10,680 2.8%
  Impartial Reporter 13,464 2.8%
  Reading Chronicle 7,161 2.0%
  Leighton Buzzard Observer 5,987 1.9%
  Fife Free Press 13,982 0.9%
  Dereham & Fakenham Times 6,913 0.8%
  Mid Somerset Gazette 8,471 0.7%
  Derry News – Monday 5,964 0.4%
  North Norfolk News 7,186 0.3%
  Chorley Guardian 12,825 0.2%
  Orcadian 9,305 0.1%

The Weston, Worle and Somerset Mercury also saw a increase of 0.5pc.


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  • August 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Not quite sure I agree with the claims that papers have really increased their circulation. For instance, the Bracknell News is up by a whopping 13%. But take a look at their ABC certificate and you’ll see they simply dump 650 free copies every week in local shops for people to pick up.
    Not quite the same as increasing sales is it?

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  • September 1, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I think this is a very simplistic analyisis. The headline figures for titles like the Harrow Observer are pretty meaningless – publishers can obtain whatever percentage increase they like if they are willing to dump unlimited free copies in their marketplace.
    However, the interesting question is how many of these titles are actually making any money. With newsprint reaching astronomical prices, putting out tens of thousands of copies for free simply isn’t sustainable in the long term.
    Advertisers won’t stomach the kind of increase in rates that newsprint prices will necessitate, and with no cover price revenue I can see a lot of these titles having big problems down the line.
    It’s surprising that no mention is made here of Trinity turning its back on the hybrid model in Bangor and reverting to paid-only.
    A more sensible approach to the hybrid model is surely to invest in high quality paid-for titles for readers who want detailed analyis and quality reporting, whilst using the web to serve the audience who are only interested in brief breaking news items.

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  • September 1, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Its very mis-leading for advertisers to hear about an improved ABC performance when massive weekly run-on’s are given out in bulk to bump up the circulation. Whilst i agree that part-free/part-paid is the way forward for weeklies – there needs to be some governance in the way these figures are reported. some kind of joint VFD/ABC declaration?

    On the same note, i’d like to see more dailies (particularly in large towns and cities) adopt this model. Advertisers need exposure and this guarantees that.

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  • September 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Big shout for Stroud Life up 12.6pc – well done to all concerned – a massive 4000 copies up on the SNJ now…

    Although my congratulations slightly contradict my earlier post!

    When will the SNJ go part-free part-paid??

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  • September 1, 2011 at 11:33 am

    A strange piece of analysis in the opening paragraphs of this piece. Isn’t the only reason that the part-paid/part-free model shows the biggest increase simply that they were previously wholly paid-for? That’s the case with the Croydon Advertiser.

    With frees, isn’t circulation success just a function of how many copies a paper is willing/able to afford to produce (a function of the amount of advertising gained), (and whether they can then recruit people to deliver them?

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  • September 1, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    These ‘circulation increases’ for part-paids mean very little unless you have the important background numbers as a measure of success.
    As it costs money to put out free copies, the trick is to distribute the minimum required to retain or boost advertising yield per page and hopefully grow overall revenue. How many you need to make may well be determined by a competitor’s market penetration. That’s the real numbers juggling game.
    Therefore, a part-paid which shows a small increase in sold copies, coupled with a reduction in freely distributed ones while still increasing yield and revenue, could be judged a great success even though its overall circulation total may have slipped. Yes, the paper with a minus circulation could be making the most money.
    Similarly, a part-free could be up 50%+ on ‘circulation’ but if production and distribution costs are rising while ad revenue is not, it is actually a loser, not something to applaud as no doubt the cuts to subsequently balance the books will be in the newsroom.
    It all reminds me of the useless excel charts I had to fill in while in newspaper management. Time to go.

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  • September 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    It would be interesting to see how many of these papers would have reported a decrease in their sales figures if they hadn’t given a load away free of charge.
    And as many of the freebies appear to be based on several hundred or more left in a number of supermarkets for people to pick up, there must be some concern about exactly how many of them really were picked up and not simply chucked away at the end of the week by the shop.
    All in all, a pretty dismal way of producing “official” circulation figures.

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  • September 2, 2011 at 9:15 am

    These figures are almost meaningless unfortunately – the way they are reported clearly needs to change

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  • September 2, 2011 at 9:40 am

    It’s a poor show when papers big themselves up for ABC gains when the actual underlying sales trend is bad and getting worse (like everyone else).
    They ought to just keep their heads down and boast when they have got something to boast about.
    Chucking out more free copies and leaving bundles in the corner at garden centres doesn’t prove anything. It just provides bedding for rabbits.
    The genie is out of the bottle over these ABC “successes”.

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