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Dyson at Large: The hard facts about going weekly

As regional daily circulations continue to tumble, one option for smaller titles is to go weekly, a subject discussed at the Society of Editors Regional Conference on Monday.

Which got me thinking: just how many titles have recently made the plunge, and how have they fared as once-a-week as opposed to daily print reads? And who might be next?

Thirteen UK dailies have converted to weekly publication since September 2007 – all of them English, and 11 former ‘evening’ titles whose daily sales had fallen to between 10,000 and 20,000.

Ten of these former evenings have since recorded higher weekly sales than their last average daily figures, my calculations based on the latest ABC audits showing each ‘rise’ at between 14pc and nearly 50pc.

The word ‘rise’ is in inverted commas because there is some industry debate about the comparability of new weekly sales against old daily figures.

Five of the converted evenings are owned by Northcliffe, now Local World; another five are Johnston Press titles; and one was owned by GMG Regional Media, now Trinity Mirror.

The other two converted weeklies are former ‘morning’ newspapers in multi-title cities owned by Trinity Mirror, whose daily sales (actively purchased and at full cover price) had both fallen to around 6,500.

Neither of these titles have seen the sales rises enjoyed by former evenings, with the full cover price weekly sales of each now below 6,000.

No conversions have been made by Newsquest, Archant or any of the independent publishers. Yet.

Let’s take a detailed look at each of the 13 ‘new’ weeklies.

Bath Chronicle. By July 2007, this traditional evening’s average daily sale was well under 13,000. In the first year after conversion, it was selling 20,000-plus a week. Five years on, the Chronicle is still selling 15,000-plus as a weekly, nearly 20pc more than it sold in its final period as a daily.

Reading Post. Then owned by GMG Regional Media, this ex-evening converted into two weekly editions in 2009 – one paid-for on Wednesdays, the Reading Post; the other free on Fridays, Get Reading. While the paid-for weekly’s sales are now only just over 10,000, much lower than the last daily figure of 12,879, the mass-distribution free also circulates nearly 67,000. Both titles are now owned by Trinity Mirror.

Birmingham Post. This Trinity Mirror morning title became a bumper-sized weekly in Autumn 2009 and now has full cover price sales of 5,393, some 15pc lower than its last daily comparable figures.

Torquay Herald Express. Following the Bath success, this was the first of a series of Northcliffe papers that converted from mid-2011. This title was selling just over 20,000 copies in its final daily ABC and, after two full, six-month audits, now sells 26,000-plus as a weekly, an increase of nearly 29pc.

Scunthorpe Telegraph. This Northcliffe title’s last daily sales were just over 15,500 before it converted in August 2011. It now sells just over 18,000 a week, an increase of nearly 17pc.

Exeter Express and Echo. The third Northcliffe evening converted in September 2011. Its last daily sales were recorded at just over 16,500; its weekly sales are now well over 19,500, an increase of nearly 20pc.

Lincolnshire Echo. The Echo was the last Northcliffe conversion (so far) in October 2011, with a final daily sale of just over 16,500. Its latest weekly sale was 20,500-plus, an increase of nearly 25pc.

Liverpool Post. Just after the Northcliffe flurry, Trinity Mirror converted its Liverpool morning at the start of 2012, when its active, full-price daily sale was around 6,500. As a weekly, it now sells just over 5,700.

Halifax Courier. Next came five Johnston Press evenings in spring 2012. The Courier sold over 14,000 as a daily, and in the last full ABC audit was selling nearly 19,000 as a weekly – up by 30pc-plus.

Scarborough News. This title’s last daily sale was just under 10,000; its first full weekly ABC figure was nearly 15,000 – up nearly 50pc.

Northampton Chronicle & Echo. This title’s last daily sale was just over 15,000; its first full weekly ABC was 19,500, up 28pc-plus.

Northamptonshire Telegraph. This Kettering paper’s last daily sale was just over 17,000; its first full weekly ABC was 19,000-plus, up nearly 14pc.

Peterborough Telegraph. This title’s last daily sale was just under 14,000; its first full weekly ABC was well over 16,500, up 20pc-plus.

So who’s next? Obviously, there will be significant differences in individual marketplaces, but my money is on at least three of the following 13 dailies converting in the next 12 months:

The Leader, Wrexham, Flintshire & Chester, last ABC 14,545, latest decline trend -6.1pc (although Celtic titles appear to be more resistant); Gloucestershire Echo, Cheltenham, 14,111, -6.8pc; Colchester Daily Gazette, 14,071, -9.9pc; Norwich Evening News, 13,322, -19.3pc; Greenock Telegraph, 12,773, -8.2pc (another Celtic argument could be made); Worcester News, 12,664, -6.7pc; Shields Gazette, 12,646, -10.7pc; North West Evening Mail, Barrow, 12,281, -8.4pc; Oldham Evening Chronicle, 12,019, -11.9pc; Hartlepool Mail, 11,473, -14.3pc; Burton Mail, 11,138, -6.6pc; News and Star, Carlisle (East and West), 15,084, -6.4pc; and the Paisley Daily Express, 7,232, +1.3pc (although again, it’s a Celt, and with a positive trend).

Judging by the experiences of the first baker’s dozen, it might be better for some of the above 13 to go weekly sooner rather than later.

16 comments

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  • April 17, 2013 at 8:43 am
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    What lazy journalism. The Wrexham Leader won’t go weekly – the one big asset they have is a printing press, so why only use it once a week?

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  • April 17, 2013 at 8:59 am
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    In advance of one of the usual grumblers having a whinge about a fall in total copy sales (as opposed to average copy sales), I wonder if Steve could also record what has happened with the cover prices of the dailies-turned-weekly and if he could offer a view on the likely profitability of these titles? To my mind, almost all of these titles will now be much more profitable as weeklies due to the cost savings in production, distribution and, yes, newsroom staffing.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 9:28 am
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    Northampton had a printing press too until a couple of years ago Forpetessake. They closed it, then went weekly.

    Many of these papers were selling 100,000 copies per week just a year ago. Now they are selling less than 20,000 per week. How anyone can see that as a success, I don’t know.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 10:12 am
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    KellyC,
    What matters to advertisers is their adverts getting into the hands of more readers, not the same fewer readers each day.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 11:26 am
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    The weeklies are unlikely to be reaching as many people as the combined readership of the daily over the course of a week. I think the audience is staying largely similar but at the cost of huge circulation revenue falls, paid for for by big reductions in print costs and, the nasty bit, journalists getting sacked. The big question here is whether these papers are making more profit and are financially sounder and therefore have a better chance of survival – something I gather that was not answered at the SoE conference. Otherwise, what journalist would argue that sacking a large number of journalists is a good move for the industry.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 11:33 am
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    Unfortunately, if once-daily newspapers are now selling a few extra thousand as a weekly, the bigger picture is that their sales figures will plummet come the anniversary of their change. For example, a daily sale of 10,000 = 60,000 a week (based on a six-days-a-week sale). If they are now selling 15,000 a week, that’s a helluva drop in terms of sale (and presumably income).

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  • April 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm
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    Onlooker: sales income has become much more important in recent years as a reasonably predictable and guaranteed income stream. Gone are the days when the cover price just covered costs and the monopoly on local ads brought in the profits. 80,000 lost 50 pences per week isn’t to be sniffed at.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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    While I appreciate that some dailies have to go weekly on economic grounds – few dailies, I suspect, make money on only one or two days, if that – to call the new weekly figures ‘increases’ is ridiculous. Divide the weekly figures by six and you get the actual circulations, which show massive losses. Also, the value to advertisers of six-day publication is enormous. Tread carefully before you go weekly, cutting staff as you do it, it could spell disaster.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm
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    KellyC why would Wrexham close a press that makes money from contract work (Mainly for Newsquest)? And if they have the facility they might as well stick out a paper five days a week totalling 90k copies. Don’t be like Steve and assume every company behaves the same way. They don’t.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 5:36 pm
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    Many thanks to all who have commented. It’s one of the next big issues for many dailies and so both needs and deserves a debate. For those interested, it’s worth reading a feature I did on ‘Going Weekly’ for InPublishing back in mid-2011… when only three dailies had gone. It’s here http://www.inpublishing.co.uk/kb/articles/going_weekly.aspx
    In particular, note two things. One, the detailed, honest comments made by Sam Holliday, then editor of the Bath Chronicle. According to Sam, going weekly saved his paper – and he explains why, in detail. Two, note my list of around 20 dailies ‘at risk’ of going weekly; since then, seven of those listed have converted. Predictions are fraught with all sorts of complications, of course, and there will be papers on this blog’s ‘at risk’ list that, for good, individual marketplace reasons, will stay daily. And if my predictions have offended anyone at those titles, I apologise. But… I stand by my prediction – based on some detailed research over the last two years – that at least three will convert within a year.

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  • April 17, 2013 at 6:25 pm
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    how can a daily sale of 10-15000, perhaps 50-60,000 weekly,which then goes weekly,for say a sale of17,500 be considered a percentage increase………………….

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  • April 18, 2013 at 10:52 am
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    Hi Confused, it’s “lies, damned lies and statistics”… they take an average day of the week sale from pre-conversion, (say, 12,000 copies) and then compare it with the new weekly sale (say, 15,000 copies). So it looks like circulation has rocketed by 25 per cent.
    Simples! But it’s not a proper comparison. That will come on the anniversary of the switch from daily to weekly.

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  • April 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm
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    Confused, anyone can see it is not a percentage increase, how this guy who wrote this is not laughed out of a job i do not know. it is so stupid it is unreal.

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  • April 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm
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    As I said, “The word ‘rise’ is in inverted commas because there is some industry debate about the comparability of new weekly sales against old daily figures.” Rightly or wrongly, publishers are claiming there’s a ‘rise’, and this is being debated.

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  • April 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm
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    Sorry Steve but you can do better than this!

    As others have pointed out, it’s nonsense to suggest a weekly sale of, say, 20,000 copies represents a real increase on six-day sales of circa 100,000. Indeed, it would be just as easy – albeit foolhardy – to argue to it represents an 80 per cent decline in sales.

    Of course, neither approach is particularly helpful; 20,000 copies at a £1 produces revenue of £20,000 per week while 100,000 copies at 40p would have generated £40,000. On the face of it, this represents a 50 per cent drop but, then again, there are a multitude of other considerations to factor in, such as staff savings, cost efficiencies and revised advertising rates.

    So, on the face of it, a daily which sold 16,000-odd copies a day at 40p and is now selling 20,000 copies a week will be facing a fall in revenue of more than £1m per year [52 x £20,000].

    Now, I have no idea what proportion of a newspaper’s cover price equates to profit or of the economies of scale involved in turning a six-day-a-week operation into a once-a-week one but to suggest, as you have done, that these daily-to-weekly sales figures offer some kind of solace for the newspaper industry without making any attempt whatsoever to factor in such considerations is completely nonsensical.

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  • April 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm
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    Judging by the experiences of the first baker’s dozen, it might be better for some of the above 13 to go weekly sooner rather than later.

    Looks to me you ‘think’ it is a ‘rise’ maybe if you had it done with your salary you might be able to see it different.

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