Among various insights, the authors noted how the city’s daily newspapers (it used to have four) had never survived as well as those further north, with Manchester and Scotland given as examples.
The phrase “too close to London” was what the authors used back in 1974, and the latest circulation figures released last month show how that proximity makes an even starker difference in 2018 for the dailies reporting their sales.
Here’s the ABC’s league table from January to June 2018 in descending order, with my note on whether the titles are ‘north’ or ‘south’ – using Birmingham as an arbitrary line
1. Press & Journal, Aberdeen : 45,935 North
2. Wolverhampton Express & Star: 42,208 North
3. Manchester Evening News: 36,715 North
4. Belfast Telegraph: 35,931 North
5. Liverpool Echo: 35,038 North
6. The Courier, Dundee 34,260 North
7. Irish News: 33,647 North
8. Eastern Daily Press: 26,788 North
9. The Herald, Glasgow: 24,265 North
10. The Sentinel, Stoke: 22,047 North
11. Hull Daily Mail: 21,813 North
12. Shropshire Star: 21,736 North
13. Leicester Mercury: 21,130 North
14. Aberdeen Evening Express: 21,003 North
15. Yorkshire Post: 20,820 North
16. Newcastle Chronicle: 20,756 North
17. The Northern Echo: 20,323 North
18. Glasgow Evening Times: 19,130 North
19. The Scotsman: 17,013 North
20. Derby Telegraph: 16,785 North
21. South Wales Evening Post: 16,590 South
22. Teesside Gazette: 16,204 North
23. Southend/Basildon/Canvey Echo: 15,978 South
24. Birmingham Mail: 15,367 Arbitrary line
25. Nottingham Post: 14,814 North
26. The News, Portsmouth: 14,767 South
27. The Herald, Plymouth: 13,833 South
28. Southern Daily Echo: 13,665 South
29. Sheffield Star: 13,658 North
30. Belfast News Letter: 13,374 North
31. East Anglian Daily Times: 13,263 South
32. The Post, Bristol: 13,102 South
33. South Wales Echo: 12,649 South
34. Dundee Evening Telegraph: 12,368 North
35. The Press, York: 11,922 North
36. Bournemouth Daily Echo: 11,521 South
37. Coventry Telegraph: 11,438 South
38. Bradford Telegraph & Argus: 11,204 North
39. Yorkshire Evening Post: 10,322 North
40. The Argus, Brighton: 10,212 South
41. South Wales Argus: 9,362 South
42. Oxford Mail: 9,038 South
43. Dorset Echo: 8,700 South
44. Swindon Advertiser: 8,481 South
45. Lancashire Post: 8,394 North
46. Colchester Gazette: 8,232 South
47. The Bolton News: 8,166 North
48. Lancashire Telegraph: 8,149 North
49. Cambridge News: 8,005 South
50. Norwich Evening News: 6,765 North
51. Carlisle News & Star: 6,476 North
52. Ipswich Star: 6,001 South
53. Worcester News: 5,995 South
54. The Mail, Barrow: 5,287 North
55. Paisley Daily Express: 4,378 North
As you can see, more than 90pc (21 out of 23 titles) selling more copies than Birmingham are in the north, while 55pc (17 out of 31 titles) selling fewer are in the south.
Although 55pc doesn’t sound as convincing as 90pc, several titles from the north selling fewer than Birmingham are either minnows (Carlisle, Barrow and Paisley) or the smaller of two or three daily titles from the same place (Belfast, Dundee, Leeds and Norwich).
Therefore, leaving those seven titles aside, more than 70pc (17 out of 24 titles) selling fewer than Birmingham are in the south.
The above snapshot only proves a simple north-south divide that’s been the case for decades, you might argue, but what’s interesting is the sliding scale of northern media strength.
Yes, every title’s dropping sales, but those in the north are generally declining at a lesser rate, which means smaller centres are slowly climbing the league table in terms of survival.
The Stoke Sentinel, the Hull Daily Mail, the Shropshire Star, the Leicester Mercury and the Newcastle Chronicle – to name just five – were only ten years ago selling fewer than the Birmingham Mail, while they now sell at least 5,000 more every day.
Even smaller centres have recently crept above Birmingham, such as the Derby Telegraph and the Teesside Gazette, with the result that Britain’s second city is now only 24th in terms of newspaper sales.
Forgive me for using Birmingham as an arbitrary line: the fact I used to work there and my memories from a history book are both to blame.
And there are – of course – many reasons for all titles’ declines: from demography to ownership styles, and from print competition to soaring online growth, (see my blog from June 2015 where the Birmingham Mail’s own case is analysed in more detail).
But as far as geography goes, one factor mentioned 44 years ago appears even more prominent today: the further north from London a title is, the better its sales in comparison to ‘southern’ papers.
Is there anything that can be done about this sliding scale? Probably not, other than making coverage as distinctly local and detailed as possible, as readers remain entranced by their own back yards and dislike the bland content that results from too much copy sharing.
*Birmingham 1939-1970, co-authored by Anthony Sutcliffe and Roger Smith, Oxford University Press, 1974.