Media: April is the cruellest month

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
BAD NEWS is generally good news for national newspapers. In April, a sequence of grim tales - the war in the Balkans, the nail bombs and the murder of Jill Dando - gave instant day-after circulation rises for all.

Nevertheless, April proved a cruel month for The Guardian (down 300 copies a day despite an expensive redesign and attendant substantial spend on promotion), the Daily Mail (25,000 down on March and The Mail on Sunday (a whopping 100,000 down month-on-month).

April is traditionally a "blip" month in sales terms for the biggest- spending newspaper groups - Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail titles, and News International, publishers of The Times, The Sunday Times, News of the World and The Sun. These two behemoths of the industry traditionally greet the new year with a frenzy of spending, a diet of advertising and promotions kick-starting their papers' circulation after the Christmas break.

They continue this strategy throughout the first quarter of the year and take a breather in April, so the monthly figures for the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and The Sun should be seen in that context.

The Sunday Times, however, invariably has a healthy April, thanks largely to the publication of its Rich List, which is heavily promoted on TV. This year they sold around 1,580,000 (a rise of more than 200,000 on the week before), which helped the title to sales of more than 1.4m - its best six-month average since 1981.

The Sun, which is believed to have spent close to pounds 15m on television advertising in the first three months of the year, also saw its figures slide month-on-month. This may be where the strongest contrast can be found between news and promotions. The Mirror, which consistently splashes straight news stories on its front page rather than showbusiness leads, saw its month-on-month figures up again. Its sales are also up year-on- year.

In the broadsheet market, The Guardian's redesign has had little effect. Its sales of 402,000 are down slightly on March, and reports suggest the paper was heading for a low-selling month until the redesign and a supporting TV and poster campaign in the middle of April boosted sales by just 10,000 for a week. That increase has already tailed off, so it has been an expensive, but so far unrewarding, venture for the paper. A Guardian spokeswoman said that because the redesign only took place in the second half of April, it is too early to comment on its impact: "We're happy with the figures we got, which show the continuing stability of the The Guardian."

Generally, the daily broadsheet market was very flat in April, yet, The Independent increased sales year-on-year by more than four per cent, and has its largest share of the market for over a year.

Across the market, April shows that while ads and promotions can drive sampling of papers, there are plenty of people drawn in by the giveaways who still won't buy a newspaper for news. Even when it seems like the world has gone mad.