Publishers blamed continuing media fragmentation for a set of results that saw all sectors record a drop in circulation year-on-year. However, it is clear that a policy shift, by three top regional newspaper groups, away from bulk sales, is also impacting on the top line.
Of the different sectors, Sundays and evening titles suffered the worst losses. None of England's top-20 evening titles were able to record a positive year-on-year result with the Birmingham Evening Mail, which dropped 6.41 per cent, the biggest sufferer in the top ten. Foot and Mouth and the resultant cancellation of local sporting events may well have had an impact here, although the Carlisle News & Star was able to turn thirst for news of the crisis into a 3.6 per cent year-on-year increase.
The drive against bulk distribution, led by Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe and Johnston Press, was evident in the morning sector, with several titles, including the sector-leading West Midlands Express & Star, eschewing bulks altogether.
"While the number of copies in the market place has decreased, a higher proportion of regional newspapers are being actively purchased and 94.3 per cent are now being sold at full price," said Zenith's regional media group director, Cathy Richards. "We fully support the move to reduce bulk sales and look forward to seeing it continue."
Bulks have also largely been stripped out of the figures for regional mornings, although results for Scotland and Ireland balanced this out by boosting the top line. The Scotsman, which is defined as a national newspaper by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, turned in a 7.1 per cent increase while the Irish News rose 0.14 per cent.
In England though, the story was a familiar tale of managed decline. Norwich's market leading Eastern Daily Press recorded small decreases of 0.4 per cent period-on-period and 1.8 per cent year on year, while The Yorkshire Post rose by 3.2 per cent period-on-period but dipped by the same amount year-on-year. Across West Yorkshire, Bradford's Telegraph & Argus posted a record increase in its base sale, despite showing a topline decrease.
"There's a clear focus on clean, transparent sales," said the Newspaper Society's director of communications, Lynne Anderson. "That's the goal. Publishers have found that sales teams are much more focused and less distracted by trying to bulk up sales and readership figures have also benefited."
Weeklies once again proved the most buoyant regional sector, despite posting its first year-on-year decline in over five years. Small increases for sector leader Essex Chronicle and second-placed West Briton could not prevent a 1.5 per cent overall decline in a sector where price rises in response to increasing newsprint costs are also thought to have impacted on sales.