Dead tree circulation continues to decline – Belfast Telegraph dropping at nearly twice rate of News Letter & Irish News

Looking at the latest set of newspaper circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) – July to December 2011 – it is once again a story of decline. You’re unlikely to read anything about this in today’s papers!

Table showing circulation decline for Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, News Letter and Irish Times - up to date with second half 2011 figures

For the last few years, the Belfast Telegraph has performed better in the first half of each year. However, its overall trend is still down.

With an average audited circulation of 53,771 copies in the second half of 2011, the Belfast Telegraph figures show a dip of 8.1% when compared with the same period in 2010. If this pattern continues, the Belfast Telegraph circulation will fall below 50,000 by the end of this year.

Its nearest northern rival – the Irish News – is shedding readers less quickly – down 5.2% on the same period in 2010.

A similar story for the News Letter, though from a lower starting point. 22,548 copies in the latest audited circulation.

The Dublin-based Irish Times dipped below 100,000 for the first time, having lost 20,000 readers in the last five years.

Chart showing circulation decline for Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, News Letter and Irish Times - up to date with second half 2011 figures

I posted this time last year that if simple linear trend lines were added to the circulation graph, sales of the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph would collide in the near future. The point of intersection has moved out a little – towards the second half of 2013 – but it is still a distinct possibility that the Irish News will overtake its Cathedral Quarter neighbour if the Belfast Telegraph continues to haemorrhage readers.

A more sophisticated trend calculation is kinder, and keeps clear water between the publications for a lot longer.

Thank goodness audited circulation doesn’t extend to blogs …

Update – the Irish News does reference the figures on p25 this morning (behind a paywall), under the headline “Figures show Irish News still outperforming rivals“.

… when free and discounted copies are taken out, actual “paid for” daily sales of the Tele stand at 42,761 – just 900 more than the equivalent Irish news figure at 41,688.

The Belfast Telegraph’s masthead claim to be “Northern Ireland’s Daily Newspaper” may indeed be be short-lived.

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  • Mick Fealty

    And worldwide the advertising curve doesn’t look good either. The Atlantic on the crisis in the US print says it is not the blogger’s fault either. The net has changed the route to market:

    “The U.S. newspaper industry was built to support $50 billion to $60 billion in total advertising with the kind of staffs that a $50 billion industry can abide. The layoffs, buyouts, and bankruptcies you hear about are the result of this massive correction in the face of falling revenue. The Internet took out print’s knees in the last decade — not all print*, but a lot.

    Don’t just blame the bloggers. For decades, newspapers relied on a simple cross-subsidy to pay for their coverage. You can’t make much money advertising against A1 stories like bombings in Afghanistan and school shootings and deficit reduction. Those stories are the door through which readers walk to find stories that can take the ads: the car section, the style section, the travel section, and the classifieds. But ad dollars started flowing to websites that gave people their car, style, travel, or classifieds directly. So did the readers. And down went print.”

  • It does raise the interesting question about the local effect of paywalls and generosity of publishing newspaper material online.

    The Belfast Telegraph put many articles online each day (though nowhere near the full contents of the paper, and sometimes seem to delay online publication of key stories for 12-24 hours).

    The Irish News lives behind a paywall. Though I’d say its sporting coverage plays a much bigger part in its circulation story.

    The News Letter puts a relatively small number of daily stories online.

  • Stewart Finn

    As Mick points out this is obviously a long running and world wide phenomenon/evolution of ‘news’ and how it is consumed and when.

    But a few things about the local figures.
    1. Should we not count discounted sales (as a percentage of a sale)…and would that make any marked difference to the stats? If discounting of the tele is a long established marketing/sales tactic they should probably be counted? – it people paying money for a paper.

    2. Did the Tele not launch an iOS app somewhere in this timeframe? how did that effect stats I wonder? I tried it, it was bad, just a PDF basically-another example of a failure to adapt to a new medium.

  • Framer

    The relevant Irish Times figures would be their sales in Northern Ireland which I gather are only a couple of thousand.
    At this rate of going we will be left with just a state news broadcaster – the BBC and no daily press.
    Perhaps we could introduce a compulsory levy on citizens who read internet newspages (like the TV licence fee) to pay toward the maintenance of newspapers?

  • Anything on the Sindo and Indo? I like to see what their figures are for “actual “paid for sales”.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Why are the Tele readers deserting quicker than any others? Personally I go for the Newsletter, occasionally, I prefer its style of reporting.

  • Taoiseach

    When I was a kid I used to deliver almost sixty Belfast Telegraphs every evening and a dozen Ulsters on Saturday. It was a massive paper, far ahead of the others. That locks people into a paper. But when they stop they stay stopped. Irish News has deaths and horses and that’ll keep it going for good while yet I think.

  • ted rodgers321

    Shame to see the unrelenting decline of Northern Ireland newspapers. Mind you, the Telegraph really is dire, and as they continue to chop away at staff, it will become increasingly more so. The Irish Times is still an excellent newspaper but is suffering severely from the decline of the property boom. It also wasted a fortune in the good times. Still it’s circulation should level out, Interesting to see in the South that theDaily Mail is the only paper holding it’s own.

  • ted rodgers321

    Apologies, as a former Irish Times sub there is no way that apos should be in the final its.

  • Ulick – ABCs for Sunday Independent and Irish Independent

  • cynic2

    The decline in the Bel Tel is perhaps driven more by its decline in quality than market changes – like an old cow being milked to death financially before its sold for dogfood

  • Mick Fealty

    I don’t think that has much to do the off the cliff decline of the NYT… The financial press have had the easiest out, since they have a wealthy readership and they’re selling into a market with an insatiable desire for news and information.

  • Cynic2 I’m suprised the Bel Tel sells any issues here in derry as they insist of the London prefix all the time and are clearly spiteful against the local players who have opted south seen from their insistence on the name prefix in every item in front of their names.

  • RyanAdams

    Hardly surprising in relation to the BelTel. In my student days I worked in a small newsagents 10 miles south of Belfast. The Belfast telegraph evening edition usually came in around 1.30pm … In the era of twitter and social media where news is broken instantly, for example in May the allocation of ministries by party, It would appear in the next days telegraph. Now it appears on Twitter, Newsline, UTV Live and of course our very own Slugger within minutes of the news actually breaking, so its not beyond those of us technically competent to find this information for ourselves sooner rather than later.

    During that stint in the Newsagents I also noticed nearly everyone buying either a BT, NL or IN were over the age of 40. So clearly the circulation of hard copies is partially linked to demographics (for once in relation to age alone!) and may explain why Belfast Telegraphs are available free at the UUJ campus …

  • BluesJazz

    Why would anyone buy a ‘newspaper’ for news? It’s like the old stones song, ‘ Who buys yesterdays papers?’ ‘no-one in the world’..
    So, habit, the deaths columns are a hardy perennial for a few old codgers.
    And then we have Property supplement (ha!) jobfinder (ha!)-remember the public sector one which used to stretch to 12 pages-now 1. And used cars, which has moved elsewhere.
    The Irish News has some good columnists and I’m guessing its GAA coverage makes it for some.

    I used to pick up about 10 free Tele copies at BMC’s (now defunct) college square east campus for lighting the fire. They used to give the USPCA thousands for the animal shelters, I hope they still do as it would be the only useful contribution it makes here.