Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Interview with Noel Doran as Irish News widens circulation gap with Belfast Telegraph

Thu 21 February 2013, 4:10pm

Every six months, the Audited Bureau of Circulations publishes figures for newspaper sales. The July-December 2012 were released at lunchtime. A newspaper might sum up the results in simple terms: it’s a good day for the Irish News, an okay day for the News Letter and bad day for the Belfast Telegraph.

Other surveys will suggest figures for the number of readers (ie, heads not copies) each newspaper has on a daily or weekly basis, with an in-built margin of area. Newspaper website and tablet usage are other indicators of a newspaper’s impact and cannibalisation of its newsprint sales. But in terms of raw figures of papers printed and sold/given away, the ABCs are a pretty robust indicator of the health of the newsprint industry.

Backed by surveys, the Belfast Telegraph can claim to be the most read newspaper of the three local dailies. (I haven’t seen figures for Daily Mirror readership.) However, in terms of reader loyalty and value, there must be a big difference between putting your hand into your pocket to pay 70p or 80p for a daily newspaper and simple reaching down to pick up a free copy on your way past.

Full basic cover price sales

  • For the second consecutive six month period, the figures show that the Irish News sold more full price newspapers than the Belfast Telegraph.
  • In fact, today’s figures show that in the second half of 2012 on average the Irish News sold 3,682 more full price copies than the Belfast Telegraph.
  • And if you include all copies sold (for any price, full or discounted) other than those given away for free, the Irish News only trails the Belfast Telegraph by 26 copies!

Earlier this week I contacted the editors of the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter asking for an short interview to discuss their newsprint and digital offerings, the challenges and opportunities of the local newspaper market, and their plans for the future.

The Irish News’ Noel Doran was the only editor to reply. (The offer is still open to the other editors.)


He spoke optimistically about his paper’s situation and the unstoppable decline in the industry. Taking a leaf out of Peter Robinson’s book and changing the paper to appeal more to non-nationalists was not on the cards!

The News Letter is now available on an iPad app (first 30 days are free), and a website refresh is expected in line with all the other Johnston Press publications. The Belfast Telegraph website recently relaunched, with a significantly less cluttered design and an abundance of calming white space. The Irish News are now publishing a few stories on their website, while keeping the full edition behind their paywall.

Noel Doran addressed the Irish News’ online firewall and the value of social media to the paper. (The audio quality isn’t great.)

Of course, all the local papers are eclipsed by the national press like the Sun and the Daily Mirror’s Northern Ireland edition (which sold an average of 50,264 copies each day in January 2013).

Table of sales this period

The Belfast Telegraph axed its evening lunchtime edition in the middle of the January-June 2012 reporting period. So these latest ABC results are the first to fully include its morning-only circulation.

Sales at the Belfast Telegraph dropped sharply. Net circulation is down by 7.9% (4,241 copies) compared with the same period in 2011 (and similarly down 8.0% compared with first half of 2012). When the discounted/bulk copies and free copies (distributed at third level education campuses as well as retailers in Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone) are removed, there are 4,988 fewer copies being sold than this time last year.

I wonder whether some Home Delivery households have become dissatisfied with getting a morning paper delivered through the letterbox at teatime?

table of change 2

(Special Edition sales sold at Basic Cover Price are included in the Full Basic Cover Price figures above.)

In a similar move in the lead up to the ABC figures released six months ago, the Belfast Telegraph have spent the last week blowing their readership trumpet with a spread of alternative statistics on pages 2 and 3. [Some of the readership statistics are the same ones they published six months ago - daily 174,000 readers, weekly 413,000 – as the Kantar Media’s Northern Ireland TGI survey they’re quoting is only run annually.] Their website figures are high, and other local papers cannot claim to have had their number of smart phone app downloads.

Sales of all local daily papers are in decline.

  • The Irish News is dropping sales less quickly than its morning rivals, only 2.4% (around 1000 copies) year on year.
  • The News Letter’s fall in circulation is running at double that rate, year on year. Their Monday-Friday sales (80p) continue to run at around half those of the Irish News (70p) and Belfast Telegraph (70p).
  • The News Letter’s Saturday Farming edition (90p) continues to be very strong (34,548).
  • In contrast, Saturday is like any other day for Irish News sales, while the Belfast Telegraph circulation dips to 43,750 (their big day is Friday 58,637).

The graph below shows the long term trend of net circulation:

Average Net Circulation trends

A belt-tightening economy, declining public engagement with politics and the management of public services, together with alternative online news sources are all continuing to impact newspaper sales.

Update – You can read Roy Greenslade’s analysis of the slipping Irish newspaper market in Media Guardian.

Update – Hold the Front Page have the list of all dailies and weeklies – showing that all but two paid-for weekly papers suffered losses. North Belfast News (4.1%) and Newtownards Chronicle & County Down Observer (0.2%) bucked the trend. Quite a number of weekly had circulation drops of more than 10% – Coleraine Times, Derry Journal, Newry Reporter, Ulster Star – though as overall circulation figures shrink, 10% drops become easier to achieve.

Update – Here’s how the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph ‘celebrated’ their circulation/readership this morning. (The News Letter was sold out in the two shops I looked in, so it’s not included!)

Irish News and Belfast Telegraph celebrate circulation/readership figures

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Comments (35)

  1. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    I think this story sums up the rot which has set in at the Telegraph in recent years:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/loyalists-erect-flags-outside-catholic-primary-school-and-church-in-carrick-28764100.html

    When you’re copying your articles almost word-for-word from a pro-Nationalist, partisan, Slugger blog written by a Sinn Fein supporter it’s going to be hard to continue to claim to be a ‘neutral’ daily newspaper aimed at both communities in Northern Ireland.

    http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/06/20/south-east-antrim-loyalists-throw-down-gauntlet-to-psni/

    The pro-Nationalist agenda in most of the paper’s reporting has, no doubt, led to a massive sale drop-off in Unionist areas.

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  2. Majella (profile) says:

    Surely the gap was ‘narrowed’?

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  3. ayeYerMa (profile) says:

    Indeed, UPC. The Dublin Guardian also lost me and many I know over the last year.

    Woeful Republican bias over events last summer.
    Liam Clarke, enough said.
    Since the Dublin takeover often more news from south of the border than concerning our own sovereign parliament.
    The only regular Unionist commentator now endorsing the Brits out agenda of the Provo Sinn Fein as being somehow about “equality”
    An evident Nationalist bias in the selection and promotion of online articles.
    And I think the recent obsession of the English editor with one-sided front-page lambasting of flag protests at any opportunity (you would never realise the 51% of our population who supported them if you relied on this paper for knowledge), along with their cringeworthy “Today we all vote Alliance Party” headlines will have been the final straw for many.

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  4. anne warren (profile) says:

    In reply to refusals to read analyses presenting a different viewpoint in the age of global news and communications.

    UPC
    “the rot which has set in at the Telegraph in recent years”
    “The pro-Nationalist agenda in most of the paper’s reporting has, no doubt, led to a massive sale drop-off in Unionist areas.”

    AYM
    The Dublin Guardian also lost me and many I know over the last year. Woeful Republican bias over events last summer”

    Such narrow-mindedness. Such a dated attitude.

    I understand both make it excruciatingly difficult for you to embrace mainstream Britishness.

    Please try to start. Please persevere.

    Remember – there’s no gain without pain!!!

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  5. JH (profile) says:

    ayeYerMa:

    “you would never realise the 51% of our population who supported them if you relied on this paper for knowledge”

    You.. what now?

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  6. Dec (profile) says:

    He’s quoting the recent Spotlight survey whereby 51% of respondents supported the protests initially. Obviously he’s neglected to mention the fact that according to the same survey 77% now want them to stop which would tend to negate the point made about the BT being out of touch with ‘the people’.

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  7. JH (profile) says:

    Ah right yeah.

    The survey that said 23% of Sinn Féin supporters don’t believe in Irish reunification.

    Back on planet Earth, no one really supports the protests. Sorry.

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  8. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    JH: Ah right yeah.

    The survey that said 23% of Sinn Féin supporters don’t believe in Irish reunification.

    Back on planet Earth, no one really supports the protests. Sorry.

    And we should believe you over an independent, internationally respected, experienced polling organisation because???

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  9. Carsons Cat (profile) says:

    Ahhhhh,,,, so now it all becomes clear.

    I couldn’t quite work out why the Tele had gone with a two page spread of bulls*it about how many people read their stuff online and even including people who follow them on twitter as “readers” of the paper.

    Suddenly its quite apparent.

    On the reasons for the tele’s demise – there probably is something about them being out of touch with their readership. I don’t buy the fact that the population at large is somehow out there championing the flag protests, but there probably has been a dip in unionist/loyalist areas recently with the quite hysterical reaction the tele took.

    Headlines like “Today we all vote Alliance” turn off a huge swathe of people – not just the face covered nutters blocking roads but also people who were horrified at Alliance Party reps being attacked, but were also disgusted at what Alliance did with the flag on City Hall.

    The Tele has also recently decided to take quite a strident line on issues such as abortion, effectively coming out in support of Marie Stopes and basically having a pop at anyone who would dare to have any vestage of faith or religion about them (or that’s how many people I know perceive it).

    All in all I don’t shed too many tears at the demise of the tele – they’re simply increasingly out of touch with what their readers actually want – not what their journalists/editors *think* their readers want.

    If they want to become the official newspaper of the Alliance Party then so be it, but they can’t expect that to drive circulation upwards.

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  10. D.A. (profile) says:

    Maybe I’m being simplistic, but I would have thought the Tele might be able to gain a few readers if they would bother to print some actual *news*, rather than simply regurgitating press releases, articles from the Independent and celebrity fluff pieces…

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  11. JH (profile) says:

    UPC

    “And we should believe you over an independent, internationally respected, experienced polling organisation because???”

    You shouldn’t. Ipsos/MORI say themselves the poll has a large margin of error. Which was why it was largely in error.

    Don’t believe me? Go ask someone that spends their Saturday doing something other than protesting and attacking their neighbours.

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  12. JH (profile) says:

    Back on topic I think D.A. hit it on the head.

    It’s a low quality paper that has made some seriously questionable strategic decisions in recent times. Such as cutting their portfolio to their weakest product.

    I never bought it but I did stop my parents from buying it a long time ago on the basis of their sister paper, the Sunday Life, leaving a bad taste.

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  13. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    JH: You shouldn’t. Ipsos/MORI say themselves the poll has a large margin of error. Which was why it was largely in error.

    Very interesting.

    I presume you can present a link or press release where Ipsos/MORI told the people who paid them a large sum of money to conduct this poll to ignore the results because they were probably wrong?

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  14. JH (profile) says:

    “…you can present a link or press release where Ipsos/MORI told the people… to ignore the results because they were probably wrong?”

    Where did I say that? You wouldn’t be misrepresenting me would you UPC? Never, surely!

    Of course you could go and learn a bit about how polling works before you embarrass yourself and waste other people’s time by arguing about it.

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  15. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Come on JH, you’ve made a claim. I’m well within my rights to ask you to back it up with some evidence.

    Or else admit you lied.

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  16. JH (profile) says:

    You mean you want me to back up the claim that you said I made about Ipsos/MORI asking their clients to disregard their polls?

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  17. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Yes please. You said this:

    Ipsos/MORI say themselves the poll has a large margin of error.

    Please back that up with some proof. A press release or something like that will do.

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  18. JH (profile) says:

    Here are the Ipsos/MORI sampling guidelines:

    http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Techniques/rmc-sampling-techniques-surveys-and-samples.pdf

    It’s in there. Also you can use standard formulae to get the margin of error pretty accurately using standard deviation, variance etc based on population to sample size ratio and other characteristics of distribution within the data set. I can’t remember exactly, it’s been a while.

    But please don’t misrepresent my argument as having been some ad hominem attack on Ipsos/MORI. It looks really amateurish.

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  19. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    Come on now. If you’re going to make a claim at least have the balls to admit you are wrong when you can’t back it up.

    You said: Ipsos/MORI say themselves the poll has a large margin of error.

    Back it up or admit you are wrong.

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  20. JH (profile) says:

    I don’t know what else I can say to you really. You’ve tried just about everything from misrepresenting my argument to now willful ignorance.

    I’ve looked up Ipsos/MORI’s guidelines for you and even given you pointers on where to start working it out yourself if you don’t believe I/M’s own document. Frankly, I think that’s more humour than most would give.

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  21. jthree (profile) says:

    If all the Prods have walked away from the Bel Tel because it has become too Feniany then why hasn’t the super-soaraway Newsletter seen a pickup in sales?

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  22. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    So you are saying Ipsos/MORI admit all of their polls are worthless? That seems to be what you are saying.

    Doesn’t make much sense business-wise, does it?

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  23. JH (profile) says:

    It’s not my fault if you don’t understand polling mate. Go educate yourself.

    How about this though. You stated that 51% of people supported the flag protests. The onus is on you to prove that, not on me to disprove it.

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  24. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    JH: It’s not my fault if you don’t understand polling mate. Go educate yourself.

    More than happy with my education ‘mate’. My problem is I can’t understand why a polling company would tell the people who pay them tens of thousands of pounds to conduct research that their findings are worthless. That’s what you have said now, for the last time, can you back this ridiculous claim up with any evidence??

    You are making a fool of yourself here.

    How about this though. You stated that 51% of people supported the flag protests. The onus is on you to prove that, not on me to disprove it.

    No I didn’t. You have a habit of getting things wrong, don’t you?

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  25. JH (profile) says:

    Sorry that was ayeYerMa, mea culpa.

    “My problem is I can’t understand why a polling company would tell the people who pay them tens of thousands of pounds to conduct research that their findings are worthless.”

    They probably didn’t. I would be surprised if they did. You seem to have just come up with that like. No one said the results were worthless.

    “That’s what you have said now, for the last time, can you back this ridiculous claim up with any evidence??”

    Err no I didn’t.

    Look, like I said, it’s not my job to educate you on things you want to make arguments about.

    But there’s a problem with backing up an absolute claim of percentage support for a certain thing based on a survey with such a small sample size in that the margin of error is quite high and that in practice the wider public mood could vary to a large degree from that indicated.

    HOWEVER. One thing that surveys like this are quite good for is measuring trends and changes in opinion over time within a sample. So one thing that you COULD take as quite accurate out of this particular survey is that in a population sample where a large number (over 50%) supported the protests to begin with, support has fallen drastically. (Assuming the 77% figure is correct and that the 49% who didn’t support them still don’t, that’s a drop of over 50% within the group who did support the protests).

    So as you see, I wasn’t implying that the data was worthless or that I/M should tell there clients to throw them out. Merely that they tell their clients to bear in mind the small sample size and the effects thereof. Which is why, often when the survey is mentioned it is introduced with ‘of course the usual caveats apply’ or something similar.

    What amazes me even more though is that you’ll probably go on to poo-poo my argument now and dissect it with a few more misunderstandings, but I’ve no doubt in another thread hold up the NILT as an indicator of a drop in support for a UI etc. A survey I actually bloody worked on!

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  26. Ulster Press Centre (profile) black spot says:

    I’ll accept that as an apology you were wrong. Probably the best we’re going to get.

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  27. JH (profile) says:

    Are you trolling?

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  28. Concubhar (profile) says:

    it seems to me that the sales for all three Northern Irish dailies are in permanent decline and I can see why as they are not alone suffering the same ailment as other newspapers (advent of internet etc) but are not providing the local coverage, being mostly full of press releases and the like.

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  29. Framer (profile) says:

    While the BBC can rely on a poll tax for funding with imprisonment the penalty for not paying up, newspapers (and journalists’ jobs) will continue to disappear. And then we will have a state monopoly on news.
    If the licence fee is sacrosanct – as most who blog here would believe (and it is about belief) – then at least create a system whereby the BBC pays a stiff fee every time they mention a local newspaper or parasite its stories.
    Indeed the Beeb should pay a compulsory licence fee to newspapers, as we do.

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  30. JH[11.57] The well past it telelegraph ediitorials are a joke Yesterday the OO made it statement about flouting the law and there was general political turmoil around the flags amd marching issues and yet the editor this morning avoided political comment completely and went for a sport issue. Same with the other unionist paper the Newsletter which couldn’t think of anything to write about the political set up here. The only reason the BT was allowed to be bought by INM was on condition it would remain a rabidly loyalist/unionist rag. They wonder why their readership is falling?

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  31. Glenn B (profile) says:

    Printed news, like printed books, is, alas a declining necessity in this era of on-line or other digital media.

    The BT has taken the biggest slump because it historically held the largest portion of the market which included ‘ancillary’ sales for example, buying petrol or groceries + get the Tele where as the Irish News & Newsletter held a more sustainable ‘punter’ base. The declining ability to home deliver the Tele at a reasonable cost also affected it’s sales.

    All 3 papers have a declining readership and many such newspapers throughout the globe are facing the same difficulty.

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  32. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    Unilke major cities in England, Belfast has a distinct political system, and there is a role for the newspapers to scrutinise Stormont, through news and analysis, as well as cover the local arts and sports scene. These things are not available in the national press. The extent of cross-elasticity between the unionist newspaper (Newsletter) and the nationalist (Irish News) is roughly zero so this means that each has a position which competes only with Telegraph (in the middle but more unionist than not). The Newsletter’s Farming Life is full of detail and I enjoy Alex Kane and Nick Garbutts columns in the Newsletter, as well as some of the political journalism. I like the sport coverage in the Newsletter. I would like a little more coverage of theatre and Ulster Orchestra reviews. So when I am at home I take the Newsletter.

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  33. tmitch57 (profile) says:

    These figures reflect a global trend that is being played out locally. The media corporations made a huge strategic mistake of offering their online editions for free at a time when their coffers were full.

    I haven’t been in NI for over a decade. When I was last there I tended to buy both the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish News to get the differing sectarian perspectives, although I thought that the former was the better paper. For a while I read the Irish News online, before a local journalist introduced me to Newshound with its multisource coverage of the province. This was my first introduction to the Newsletter. I like Alex Kane. I suppose the difference between the Belfast Telegraph and the Newsletter is that the former is somewhere editorially between Alliance and the UUP, whereas the latter is somewhere between the UUP and the DUP. In other words, the Telegraph is more liberal unionist and the Newsletter more traditional unionist.

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  34. [...] Press will no doubt hope that the spring clean of the News Letter’s layout will arrest its slipping circulation. However, it’ll take lots of good content coupled with the more attractive appearance to keep [...]

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  35. FDM (profile) black spot says:

    I was in WH Smiths at the international airport yesterday.

    Every daily newspaper was on sale except the Irish News?

    WH Smiths mustn’t like selling newspapers.

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