Media: Analysis: `Mail' shrugs off Diana effect

LAST YEAR, everyone from radio stations to retailers blamed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, for a downturn in business. Now, for perhaps the first time in its relationship with the late Princess, the newspaper industry can claim the same thing. September 1997 will for ever be Diana month, and September 1998's sales figures look terrible when compared with last year.

Only two dailies, the Financial Times and the Daily Mail, managed a year-on-year increase. Sales of popular papers were down on average 380,000 a day. Broadsheet losses were proportionately larger - suggesting that it was those titles that really benefited last year. The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent lost 147,000 copies a day between them, selling on average 2,820,000 papers a day last month.

It's the same story in the Sunday market. Every paper bar The Mail on Sunday lost sales compared with September 1997.

The Mail on Sunday managed a year-on-year increase of 91,000 while the other popular Sundays lost more than a million copies between them. This was proportionately more even than the Sunday broadsheets, which lost 281,000 year-on-year.

The Daily Mail's achievement in overtaking The Mirror has been widely covered, but the strength of Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Mail, during September still needs to be marked. The Mail on Sunday held its year-on-year sale thanks to a monthly increase in September over August of almost 200,000 copies a week. The Daily Mail put on more than 100,000 copies a day month on month.

Last Thursday's promotional "skyline" on the Daily Mail encapsulated the reason for this success. In the top corner of its front page the Mail was puffing its "Lucky Wallet" promotion. Below this was a picture of two smart-looking young women and a puff for an article in that day's paper: "Meet the FITS* - *That's Financially Independent Twenty and Thirty- Somethings". It is this combination of a killer promotion and the targeting of young working women that last month allowed the Mail to see off both The Mirror and the Diana effect.

The month-on-month figures for the rest of the popular market were a little more encouraging than the year-on-year ones, but not much. The Mirror increased sales over August by 3,000 - 0.13 per cent - and The Sun put on 22,000 - 0.62 per cent. Neither rise was spectacular for the time of year, but they did buck the trend of long-term decline.

The Express lost out to the luck of the Mail's wallets and was down 4,000 month-on-month, although the paper had a healthy increase in August, when it started its own promotion. The Daily Record's advances in Scotland slipped back in September after the boost of the early start of the Scottish football season in August, and heavy competition north of the border is driving a seemingly endless price war.

The Sunday popular market did not even have the benefit of modest rises in September. All but The Mail on Sunday were down month-on-month as well as year-on-year. Without The Mail on Sunday's gains, the Sunday tabloids would have been selling 100,000 copies a week fewer than in the previous month.

It was a rosier picture for broadsheets. All titles but the Financial Times grew month on month - and it is a mark of the FT's growth that it was still up on September 1997 - so that the market was up 56,000 copies a day from August. The Guardian and The Times increased sales by just over 5 per cent each thanks to heavy promotion, while the The Daily Telegraph and The Independent had more modest rises.

All the quality Sundays bar Scotland on Sunday recorded rises, the market putting on 100,000 copies a week over the previous month - with a 4 per cent rise for The Observer's new editor, Roger Alton.

However, Scotland on Sunday's fall of over 2 per cent casts a shadow over the plan announced last week by the owners of The Herald to launch a new Sunday paper for Scotland under the editorship of Andrew Jaspan.