Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

DIGITISATION: Comparing print circulation with online users

We've been raising and discussing this point frequently recently, so lets pin it down with some precise figures.
The total combined circulation of UK daily national papers in Jan 2015 was just over 7m; for Sunday nationals it was 6.4m (Greenslade report). NB: these are ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) figures; an independent body whose figures govern what advertisers pay. Most of their content is locked behind a paywall; the Guardian maintains a microsite for ABC-related articles.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations (UK) or ABC was founded on 14 October 1931 by the ISBA (Society of British Advertisers) to provide an independent verification of circulation/data figures to facilitate the buying and selling of advertising space within UK national newspapers. [Wiki]
Table from Press Gazette. 'Bulks' means copies given away free/heavily discounted (hotels etc)


Online, if we look at unique users (ie, the total number of different people who accessed a paper's site at any time over a month), the figures are staggering and give an indication of how truly global the UK national press brands are:
  • the Mail is the global, not just UK, leader with 225 million!!!
  • the Guardian is in second with 122m, and that 2-1 scale can also be seen in a further (daily user) measurement below
  • even some struggling titles are thriving online, and globally: both the Mirror and Telegraph manage 85m
  • we've noted before: the Murdoch press accounts for over a third of circulation
  • the left-wing press (Mirror, Guardian) combined account for less than Murdoch's titles (or a similar figure if we add the record, the Scottish version of the Mirror)
  • right-wing titles account for around 75% of circulation (thats all bar the Mirror, Guardian, Indie/i)
  • the Guardian is the only paper not run for profit; it is owned by a not-for-profit charitable trust; any profits are used as investment (it is run as a conglomerate with radio and other media concerns too)
  • most of these companies have cross-media concerns, seeking synergy from convergence - eg the Sun uses Premier League goals (from Sky's contract) to attract online subscribers
(Donald Baird)

When we look at daily users, more directly comparable to circulation figures, we can see, for most, that online numbers dwarf print numbers (though bear in mind that circulation does not equal readership; most print copies are read by 2 or more people, so you can safely triple circulation figures for readership, a conservative estimate)
  • the Desmond titles indicate what happens with minimal investment: both the Express and Star have fewer than 1m
  • the ad revenue from these (mostly) extraordinary figures comes nowhere near matching that from print ads, at least not yet. An online user is worth a fraction of a print reader, at this point. 
Also from Press Gazette.

 Again, points we've raised before (and I've blogged on):
  • despite the seemingly encouraging online growth, with annual online user increases averaging over 20%, online users are still worth a small fraction of their print reader equivalents in advertising terms
  • making online content pay remains challenging: Murdoch's News UK has sought to supplement ad revenue with a paywall - you need to subscribe to see Times/Sun content. This has greatly reduced the influence of both papers, with the really quite oddly aggressive approach to any reproduction of their content (including a ban on replicating their front pages) surely backfiring too
  • will all these titles survive, say, another five years? Probably not
  • that creates a strong argument against tougher regulation - added costs could lead to closures
  • regulators continue to focus on content not ownership, or cross-media ownership, and there remains a lack of clear, formal guidance on limits to concentration of ownership: Richard Desmond might struggle to pass the 'fit and proper persons' test to buy a football club, but bought two nationals with limited fuss, while Murdoch's dominance remains unchallenged, and OfCom were prepared to wave through his bid to buy out the remaining 60% of BSkyB shares News Corp didn't own
  • we've seen the issue with the Telegraph seemingly disregarding its watchdog/fourth estate duties to safeguard advertising revenue (and coverage of China, for example, filtered in other titles to benefit wider conglomerate interests), but what about foreign/world affairs generally? As every paper seeks to build US audiences in particular, will/can they remain even-handed in their coverage?
  • Do UK national regulators need to do more to take into account not just the website, but the international nature of these?

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