AddThis SmartLayers

Dyson at Large: The sliding north-south scale of regional daily sales

bhamboookI’ve always been fascinated by a passage I found in an old history book about Birmingham which had a section on the media.*

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.


You can follow all replies to this entry through the comments feed.
  • September 19, 2018 at 10:41 am

    The pitifully low sales of the papers from 40 downwards (Argus Brighton 10, 212 to Paisley Daily Express 4,378) hardly qualify them for regional status. Indeed many of them make only a token gesture of covering a region and are centred mostly on one town. Some of these were once mighty regionals.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(3)
  • September 19, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    I hardly think the ones 1-39 can be said to satisfactorily cover their locations,particularly the twoin my area of east Anglia where the woeful EDP now sells 26,700 copies in regional footprint of almost a million people and where the EADT similarly reaches so few as to be more akin to a small weekly title.
    I guess it’s all just a measure of bad, very bad and inconsequential showing just how insignificant majority of titles from the larger regional publishers have become and proving the future of regional publishing lies with the smaller community papers springing up and thriving all over.

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(11)
  • September 20, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Less transient populations the further north you move – therefore retaining more of an interest in local affairs? Of course, this should help titles such as the EDP, as there’s a fairly static population apart from the property hot-spots of the north Norfolk coast and NR2, but in a lot of cases certain newspaper companies seriously believe that they will always be here and retain the affection of the local area. Woolworths, anyone?

    Report this comment

    Like this comment(5)