Smartphone readership surge fuels pandemic boom for news brands and magazines

Latest Pamco figures show smartphone growth is driving digital increases, while normal print audience reports are suspended due to the coronavirus.

The Guardian: brand reach via phones was up 34% year on year [picture credit: NurPhoto/Getty]
The Guardian: brand reach via phones was up 34% year on year [picture credit: NurPhoto/Getty]

The UK’s most popular news brands and magazines continued to see significant annual increases in audience reach amid the pandemic, albeit at lower levels than when the coronavirus crisis took hold in the spring.

The latest Pamco figures showed double-digit year-on-year growth for most national newspapers, with the exception of the Telegraph and i.

However, the organisation was unable to provide new print audience estimates for the second quarter due to the coronavirus disrupting Pamco's ability to conduct field interviews. Instead, Pamco has coupled the January-March quarterly print data with Comscore data for digital audiences for June to produce the second-quarter figures.

The biggest gainers were The Times – which recorded a remarkable 74% year-on-year increase in total brand reach to just under 15 million – and the Daily Star (up 47% year on year to 12.9 million), with its irreverent front pages criticising the government having helped it stand out on social media during the summer months.

Most national news brands were unable to increase audience compared with the last bumper quarter, when news consumption surged as people sought information and commentary about Covid-19. Only the tabloid papers managed to record small gains in an otherwise declining period compared with the previous quarter, with the Daily Star and Daily Record up 7% and 5% respectively.

The total news brand market, which takes into account all nationals, freesheets and regionals, grew 1% to 49.1 million.

Dave Mulrenan, head of investment at Zenith, said the figures showed that digital reach has “fallen away since March”, when digital traffic “went through the roof.”

“Some of the news brands have managed to hold on to the audience from March better than most. Again, this is where the Mail, The Sun and The Guardian win out,” Mulrenan added.

Daily digital national news readership has increased by 20% compared with last year, which brings the number of digital news readers to 22 million – an extra 3.7 million people. Newsworks has hailed this as proof that the UK public is continuing to flock to trusted news during the pandemic.

Jo Allan, managing director at Newsworks, said: “The latest Pamco data shows readers' increasing appreciation of journalism as a trusted source of information and news. Across the total news sector we reach 49 million people every month and 38 million people a day, and with strong growth across our digital audiences we continue to see demand for high-quality journalism.”

Meanwhile, the magazine market increased total brand reach by a significant 5% to 43.4 million, despite an estimated 6% fall in print readership. Magazine brands saw a huge year-on-year increase in consumers accessing their content by phone (up 23%), which more than made up for falls in print (down 6%), tablet (down 4%) and desktop computers (down 16%).

Some titles nearly doubled their annual brand reach, such as Olive (up 96%) and and Ideal Home (up 89%) while the biggest fallers among the competitive women’s magazine market included Harper’s Bazaar (down 50%) and Country Living (down 31%).

Mulrenan added: “For magazines, digitally led brands forge ahead in terms of brand reach with the likes of Hello, Radio Times, OK! and BBC Good Food achieving three-quarters of their reach via the phone. Conversely, magazines like Asda and Sainsbury’s achieve three-quarters of their reach via the printed product.

“Come the September date released in December of this year, we will still not be able to access print data due to Covid-19.”

Pamco confirmed it plans to carry out a live test of 5,700 interviews in the fourth quarter. The company said it is also working with pollsters Ipsos on a new methodological approach for updated print estimates in 2021.