- Regional newspapers appear to be benefiting from the clutter caused by an increasingly fragmented media market, according to the latest round of sales figures for the industry unveiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
In the healthiest returns the regionals have seen since 1992, overall sales fell just 0.5 per cent during the second half of 1997, compared to 1.5 per cent last year for July-December 1996.
The strongest performing sector was weekly regional newspapers, the only area to record an increase in growth, of just under one per cent. Sixty per cent of the titles in this field increased their circulation, compared to just half last year.
The top selling weekly was West Briton with an average sale of 50,391, followed by the Essex Chronicle at 49,598. In terms of growth the most dynamic newspapers were the Northallerton, Thirsk & Bedale Times with a 44 per cent increase year on year to a still tiny 1,556, and the Merthyr Express, up 32.6 per cent to 18,427.
The ABC's head of operations Anthony Peacham commented: "In all some 237 weekly titles showed circulation growth, with nine achieving double-figure percentage increases."
Morning newspapers have stemmed their decline from 2.2 per cent two years ago to just 0.4 per cent in the second half of 1997. The Aberdeen Press & Journal topped the morning league with sales of 105,176, but it was The Scotsman which posted the largest rise in circulation, up 5.5 per cent year on year to 81,330. Nine of the seventeen morning titles grew circulation this year.
Despite showing the largest decline in circulation growth with a fall of 2.6 per cent for the July to December period, Sunday titles have also reduced the rate at which sales are falling, which last year stood at 3.3 per cent. Nearly two-thirds of all evening titles registered an increase in growth. The Birmingham Evening Mail and the West Midlands Express & Star dominate the sector, with circulations of 192,188 and 191,869 respectively.
Charles Ross, national development manager of The Newspaper Society, commented: "Everything looks set for continued solid growth for regional press advertising. These figures prove that regional press is far from a medium set for rapid and constant decline."
The reduced erosion of regional newspaper circulation can be set against a healthy advertising revenue picture for sector. According to MMS, regional press increased its revenue by 12.2 per cent year on year to £4.4 million in 1997, compared to a 5.9 per cent increase for national press and 1.9 per cent rise for terrestrial TV (excluding Channel 5).