Newspaper sales: could the Irish News overtake the Belfast Telegraph in 2012/3?

To add some longer term data to yesterday’s Tele takes a hiding post by O’Neill, the graph below outlines the performance (using the six monthly Audit Bureau of Circulation figures) of the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter. I’ve added in the the Irish Times sales for comparison.

NI newspaper sales 2004-2010 - Belfast Telegraph, News Letter, Irish News (and Irish Times for comparison)

The overall trend is one of decline. However, it is significantly more pronounced for the Belfast Telegraph.

In fact if simple linear trend lines are added to the graph, sales of the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph will collide towards the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.

Statistically, a more sophisticated trend analysis would be required before drawing any formal conclusions. (Applying a polynomial trend line keeps clear water between the two publications for much longer.)

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  • JAH

    Maybe the Question could be rephrased. Who will get to 30000 first?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    But will the Telegraph actually last until 2013? It does not seem likely.

  • Cynic2

    It should – its a much better paper

  • I wonder how much difference the Irish News having a paywall makes? I simply can no longer imagine paying for a daily paper (any paper) but for those who can’t do without their weekly dose of Brian Feeney, then it’s the only option.

    Also, it would be interesting to compare their online advertising revenue, particularly since the Tele seems to let every attention-seeking nutter and his dog have a say now on most of its articles.

    The problem though is once you go down that road then the temptation to appeal to the lowest common (here, generally sectarian) denominator to provoke a response from the online hordes must become to strong to resist… and hence a further drop in journalistic quality and *real* sales.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Who will get to 30000 first?’

    The Newsletter have already bypassed that target as they now look like breaking the 20,000 figure by 2014 or so ?

    It’s a poor lookout for the newspaper industry in today’s world of uber fast communications -internet -blogs -twitter etc etc . People don’t have to read the morning or evening paper to find out whats happening in the world and sometimes by the time they actually get a newspaper the news is already old hat . Many of us now live in virtual worlds where we communicate with others without ever meeting them face to face and where we can sit at the dinner table while texting our business partners or friends on the other side of the globe .

    In 20 years time newspapers will have made the full time leap to electronic versions or they won’t exist -at least that’s how it appears to me .

    So the question for Irish and or British print newspapers is who will be the last to become ‘extinct’.

  • Driftwood

    The tabloids seem to be holding the line, just. Primarily because of sports coverage I guess. And some habits die hard. The term ‘news’paper is largely redundant though, apart from the odd scoop, it’s mostly opinion and syndicated opinion at that. Still like the idea of a print read though, used to look forward to the Sunday Correspondent, back in the day..

  • The Word

    It would be no harm if the Irish News started to crash too.

    Spineless Jim Gibney, smartass Brian Feeney, and even bigger smartass Newton Emerson seem to dominate a family paper while sending out signals of duplicity, betrayal, and worthlessness.

    And then there’s Tom Kelly with his new agenda after finishing with Seamus Mallon, an agenda that seems to stab in the back the good people who stood up for what was right in this society.

    Are the SDLP really so full of self-deception or are there forces at play that see themselves as threatened by a party untouched with the “scandals” and free to change a world that others feel should best be left alone?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    It may or may not be the case that The Irish News deserves to crash……..but the point is that the Belfast Telegraph is the one thats crashing.

  • A major factor in for the Irish News holding it’s figures is the GAA coverage and it’s fairly varied selection of columnists which cater for most political persuasions in the north. Contrast with the Tele which only relatively recently featured a GAA story on the back page for the first time, has over-exposure of IFA soccer which nobody watches, little to nothing on the ROI international team, a preponderance of rabidly anti-Republican columnists, practically nothing on southern issues. In effect it is still a unionist paper, is perceived as one and like the Newsletter it’s decline will continue to mirror the decline of the unionist ‘demographic’ as a whole.

    The only thing it was ever worth getting for is the jobs and previously the home-finder.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Actually Ulick makes good points. Sports coverage is actually important. Back in the 1930s the Daily Express circulation increased purely on the basis that the racing tipster “The Scout” (not to be confused with his successor Clive Graham) had a lucrative winning streak.
    The various “Buy and Sell” papers give much more compehensive listings than anything the Tele could do.

  • aquifer

    ^the Tele seems to let every attention-seeking nutter and his dog have a say now on most of its articles.”

    But will not cover many events in our nearest neighbour which is English speaking but under different governance and with a very different tax regime, culture, and a healthy representation of multinational companies. That has to be interesting unless you are dead from the neck up or broke.

    Lunacy is just bad business.

  • Driftwood

    I see Ulick’s post crossed with mine around the same time on the other Tele thread making some of the same points.
    However *online* the Tele’s website covers the Republic substantially due to carrying many articles from Reilly’s Irish Independent. Indeed it’s not often clear which jurisdiction is being referred to. Syndicated articles from the (London) Independent further the confusion.

    I would add the point that surely no-one buys the BT for its woeful sports coverage.

  • wild turkey

    “could the Irish News overtake the Belfast Telegraph in 2012/3?”

    in terms of quality and demonstrating some respect for the noonce and interests of their readership, both the irish news and the newsletter did ages ago.

    the Telegraph is perpetually pitched at a market that wants their fears confirms, hence all the “shock” headlines, while at the same time need to be re-assured wot a great wee place the “province” continues to be… and in short, as IQs continue to climb above the speed limit, that is a declining market.

    what sums up the Bel Tel for me is a headline from a few years ago:

    “Ulster Couple Honeymoon Heartbreak: Gifts and Clothes RUINED !”

    um, the article was about the boxing day 2004 tsunami. FFS.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yep, the Belfast Telegraph has no redeeming features whatsoever. As Aquifier points out, Lunacy is bad business. Advertising these days knows no border. UTV & BBC for example are at ease with “Ulster GAA coverage” or Donegal “news stories”.

  • Alan’s graph above shows an unmistakable trend but it actually overstates the Telegraph’s present position in real terms. The BT’s ABC figure confirms that only 79 pc of its total is what is known as actively purchased, that is to say bought by ordinary readers at the full cover price. The other 21 pc is bulk sales, which are effectively given away through hotels, airport and trains etc. This is a very high percentage for a UK regional daily, and compares to the 99.9 pc actively purchased figure for the Irish News. If bulk sales – or free copies – are excluded, as many media commentators argue they should be, the BT is sitting at 46.000, not 58,000, and is barely 2,000 ahead of the Irish News. Unless the BT dramatically halts its decline, or the Irish News takes a sudden tumble instead, the latter will probably be the biggest selling actively purchased title within the year.

  • oldhack – it would be interesting to see the detail figures for the Belfast Telegraph and the free/paid breakdown over the years … but since I can only see the detailed ABC figures for the last six months on the ABC website, that’s beyond me!

  • RedTurtle

    I really don’t see what point is being made by plonking the Irish Times onto this graph.

    I mean the most popular newspaper in Northern Ireland is the soaraway Sun is it not?

  • Banjaxed

    RT: ‘I mean the most popular newspaper in Northern Ireland is the soaraway Sun is it not?’

    So THAT’S where all the Tele’s bottom feeders slunk off to!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Old Hack” makes a very valid point about free copies of the Belfast Telegraph. Excluding the bulk purchases (hotels etc) I think all of us will have seen Telegraph promotions at Universities and railway stations for example….where pretty ladies give us a free copy or whatever.
    Ive seen people refuse copies (fair enough but free papers seems reasonable) and Ive seen people take a copy, walk a few yards on and put the copy in a litter bin.

    Perhaps if theres any future for it….it lies in the fact that it IS an institution within Belfast. That iconic building for example. And the newsboys on familiar pitches. No doubt many of us can visualise the best pitches and the men who carried the papers and the vans that carried the papers.
    To some extent the employing of foreign workers in circumstances that are a bit suspect for many tastes undermines that reputation.
    The bottom line is we just dont need it.

  • Mark

    There are certain internet forums where people start their own threads willy nilly ….. One particular forum had it’s founder on the RTE frontline programme tonight …. and seemed quite nervous under the lights of the TV cameras . Its harder dealing with people in the flesh rather than under the guise of a moderator .

    I think he found Ming a little daunting …. I thought he was going to get a belt of a turfcutter . There was more than one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest of the frontline studios tonight .

  • I think the problem with BT is threefold. Firstly, the internet. Secondly, its journalism seems to have moved to a more secular position and now lacks the communal identity of the other two newspapers. Thirdly, people are finding regional daily newspapers increasingly boring.

    Because of its previous market share, it was always going to be more vulnerable to the problems identified above.

  • RepublicanStones

    From a personal perspective. My actually forking out coin for a print edition has indeed decreased due to the internet. But not entirely because of the lack of paywalls. The advent of social media, and I believe this is particularly relevant to twitter, means i am able to actually tailor my own news digest. That is to say, i can pick and choose which journalists I want to follow, those who write about issues i’m interested in. And with their articles now a mere tap away on the phone, means I don’t have to expend the energy turning a page to skip Julie Burchill.

  • > I really don’t see what point is being made by plonking the Irish Times onto this graph.

    RedTurtle – The Irish Times was listed as it’s a long established paper (much like the Belfast Telegraph), has a different profile of decline, like the Irish News it was seen off a number of competitors, and it also provided most of the figures since it runs a good article every six months about the Ireland ABCs across Ireland … whereas the other papers only tend to mention circulation when they come out of it well!


    I posted a somewhat considered comment [Ed – link] on the related thread entitled Tele takes a hiding where I postulated the need for printed papers to move wholesale to the electronic media. I would suggest everyone read my posting as I work in this industry and I know what I am talking about.

  • Brian Walker

    As well as the general decline in newspaper circulation, so-called evening papers are even harder hit and are really up against it. The Tele’s early tabloid edition seems to have done little to halt decline. Interesting too that they haven’t dared put up a paywall for the slighly improved the web version.

    My own view is that the Tele needs to take much greater account of the better niche services the Irish News and even the Newsletter are offering. Providing a local version in broadsheet format of the Dail Mail/Express spectrum doesn’t seem to be working. Nor are UK national free fillers from the utterly different stablemate the Independent.

    Somehow the Tele needs to find a voice different from its traditional liberal unionist standby of the generations – “why don’t we catch ourselves on?” More diverse and better rooted than the English national tabloid imitation that’s served up.

    It would be tempting to take the paper cautiously upmarket again and enhance the cross community service. For that, it would need some new columnists with original voices and their ears to the ground, lots of interactivity with added value on the website, a Dublin presence, greatly revamped sport and above all, investment in original reporting. They could go part of the way with citizens’ journalism.

    I see the editor has been trying to make up for the reporting deficiency by dropping in the occasional report from Clarke, Breen and Moloney, plus feeding off local broadcasting. .Not sure what the final strategy is here, but let’s have more of it, although there’s no substitute for your own reporters, if somehow they could find the money.

    .. And when they’ve done all that, think about going head to head in the morning. Afternoon/evening sales are on a downward spiral everywhere. The Evening Standard in London is an exception but with only one late commuter freesheet edition supported by metro advertising – it is not a viable model to follow.

  • I’m not completely sure, but I think there was a recent change to how bulk sales were counted by ABC. The decline in paid for BT sales is probably lower than the headline figure, although its obviously still down. I don’t think the Irish News had many bulk sales, so it didn’t take the same hit.

    Judging by some of the comments, some people are writing about a paper they haven’t actually read in some time!

  • Belfast Gonzo

    > Judging by some of the comments, some people are writing about a paper they haven’t actually read in some time!

    Yes! “dropping in the occasional report from Clarke” … who is now staff.

    In terms of bulk sales …

    BT’s average net circulation for the second half of last year was 58,491 with 15.6% (9126) of those copies given away free (Enterprise train, hotels and student unions etc) and 5% (2960) discounted at less than half price. A bulk of 20% is quite high …

    Interestingly, the ABC report explains how the free copies are distributed:

    > The Belfast Telegraph AM edition is delivered to retailed outlets in Donegal, Fermanagh, Derry and Tyrone. It is also delivered to retail outlets based within University / College campuses in Belfast, Lisburn, Newtownards, Downpatrick, Newcastle, Ballynahinch, Coleraine and Jordanstown. The copies are placed in display stands for free pickup.

    Compensating for the “Belfast” identity of the paper by giving the morning edition away in the west, and sowing seeds with students who may eventually graduate, get jobs and buy a copy at the station on the way to/home from work.

    For comparison:

    Newsletter has 1.77% (420) bulk sales out of 23669.

    Irish News had 0.06% (25) bulk sales out of 44,222.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Belfast Gonzo is of course right. Many of us are judging the Belfast Telegraph without having read it in years (except if somebody leaves it behind on a train) but surely thats the whole point. If we actually read it, nobody would be agonising over its missing readers and impending demise.
    Besides the picture that Mr Brian Walker paints……as a reader……is not very different from the picture painted by non-readers.
    There is as much market for buying a “liberal unionist” newspaper as there was for voting for “liberal unionist” politicians. None.
    Moving upmarket as the UUP half heartedly tried to do (linking with the Tories) did not work. The Telegraph moving upmarket would be risible.
    The “why dont we catch ourselves on” line which Mr Walker accurately portrays is not actually any form of politics at all. Rather it is akin to the late James Youngs advice “wudd yiz stop all the fighting” at the end of his BBC shows.
    Not politics…just the status quo……..whatever the status quo …..happens to be…..Brookeborough, O’Neill, Chi Chi, Faulkner, Direct Rule……………and seeing some hope in Trimble (as laughable as that appears now).
    Yet the scenario of “themmuns” in government is not one they like. The SDLP are somehow vaguely acceptable. But not “themmuns”.

  • Beaky

    I wouldn’t dream of purchasing a tele these days its politics are rooted in the past and there doesnt seem to be any original or exclusive stories on its pages. Just rehashed stories from the morning papers which people have already read by lunch time. The editor needs to give his staff a boot in the arse and tell them to get out and get some content and not just cover the days events that’s what the BBC website is for.
    And drafting in a bunch of dinasoars and bitter reject hacks from other publications isnt going to help.
    Clarke, Breen, Moloney?? have we no up and coming talent in northern Ireland.
    In my opinion the loss of the great David Gordon was the final nail in the coffin for the tele .
    As for the Newsletter sure you’d be better off reading the Ballymena Times.
    Say what you will about the Irish News but at least they’re still breaking stories and not just rewriting them.

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse1745: There is as much market for buying a “liberal unionist” newspaper as there was for voting for “liberal unionist” politicians. None.
    “None” being somewhat better than the markets for the other 2 dailies, of course. Let alone the market for the late and unlamented 4th daily.
    Isn’t everyone getting carried away, here?