War proves turn-off for readers in newspaper ABCs

LONDON - Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond has reason to celebrate after his Express and Daily Star newspapers were among the few success stories in the latest set of the national newspaper ABCs, as war news turned readers off.

Overall, the national newspaper market had a bad month in February as readers are being put off by the amount of coverage newspapers are giving to the impending war on Iraq.

However, Desmond's daily tabloid the Daily Star continued its circulation climb, posting a 13.47% increase year on year to 842,960 without bulk copies.

Its success comes despite the appointment of Rebekah Wade as editor of rival News International's market leader The Sun. Wade is seen to be looking to stamp her authority on the paper by making it more controversial. Last month, she printed a French version of the paper attacking French president Jacques Chirac's anti-war stance and had it distributed in Paris.

During her first full month as editor following her promotion in January, The Sun's circulation increased by 2.2% year on year to 3,516,129.

The success of both titles appears to continue to hurt the anti-war Daily Mirror. The Mirror's sales are down 3.32% year on year to 2,042,092 excluding bulks. The paper can expect further falls as it gradually ends its price war with The Sun, although it is still selling at a reduced 25p in London.

In the mid market, the Daily Express was up 4.77% year on year to 904,655 before bulks, its bitter rival the Daily Mail rose 1.58% year on year to 2,386,580 excluding bulk copies.

Among the daily broadsheets, all except The Guardian posted a year-on-year decline before bulk copies were added. The Guardian rose 1.98% to 393,367.

The Independent's troubles continued with a 3.02% fall year on year to 185,719, the lowest circulation of the broadsheets. The Times was down 4.82% to 635,196, a year after former FT journalist Robert Thomson took over as editor from Peter Stothard.

The Daily Telegraph fell 4.22% to 912,252, and the news for Financial Times owner Pearson was bad as the pink daily plunged 6.82% to 427,722. The news follows Pearson's results last week, showing ad revenues at the paper were down 23% in 2002.

The Sunday tabloid market, however, was hit hard last month. The News of the World was down 2.95% year on year to 3,928,895, although it stretched its lead over the Sunday Mirror, which was down 5.72% to 1,691,863. The People dropped 12.48% over the last year to 1,142,294 as Desmond's new Sunday title the Daily Star Sunday posted a circulation of 464,333.

In the Sunday broadsheet sector, the story was similar to the daily market. The Guardian's sister title The Observer posted the only year-on-year rise, a 5.6% increase to 449,953 before bulks. The Sunday Times posted the smallest decrease, down 0.75% to 1,403,964, while the Sunday Telegraph was down 3.13% to 730,739.

The Independent on Sunday continued to languish at the bottom of the pile with a 3.03% fall to 186,681. It has just thrown £2m behind the launch of a new arts magazine, Talk of the Town, and a revamped travel and leisure section in a bid to boost its circulation.

In the mid-market, the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday were both up year on year excluding bulk copies. The Sunday Express rose 10.56% to 883,962, while Associated Newspaper's Mail on Sunday rose 0.09% to 2,305,347.

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