Media: Times are hard, so let's add another new section

Summertime - and the living is anything but easy for national newspapers.
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The Independent Culture
IT IS not just the mini-heatwave that has given the impression of the summer holidays having started early. The newspaper market has suffered an early seasonal depression with the last weeks of June seeing a falling off in sales. In each sector of the market, only one paper has avoided the gloom.

The Independent is the only daily broadsheet to have put on readers. In the middle market, the Daily Mail has also avoided the depression, as has the Daily Star among the red tops.

The Times today makes a bold bid to reverse its decline which has seen a fall in both month-on-month and year-on-year sales.

This time it is an editorial, rather than a cover price initiative. Editor Peter Stothard is upgrading his arts and features, including health, media and the other specialist pages, by putting them in what could technically be termed a third section, though it is in fact a pull-out inserted in the second section.

Stothard has long been frustrated that the paper's arts and features have seemed to play second fiddle to business and sport - which occupy the front and back of the second section.

Equally, he has been loath to lose business from the front of his second section. And pagination technicalities prevented him from moving arts or features into the first section. Basically, both sections had to be of equal length.

Certainly, the feeling shared by Stothard and his senior colleagues is that not just arts, but also the specialist pages were receiving less exposure than they deserved.

The decision to have a pull-out section will please the specialists and feature writers on the staff, who feel their efforts have sometimes been lost between business and sport.

But staff at The Times will work harder for their daily pull-out. Like colleagues on The Independent and on The Guardian, they will have to write a daily review, or pull-out, front.

Stothard's move to highlight his arts and features coverage is interesting, for it is basically saying that readers, of arts pages in particular, can still be put off by a section with a business lead and be unwilling to turn a few pages to find the items that interest them.

It is a cynical view, but I suspect an accurate one.

Elsewhere, The Daily Telegraph recorded its lowest full-rate sale since the present method of collating circulation figures began. The 1,041,008- selling paper actually sold 645,088 at full rate and gave away 49,507 free. The rest were discount and subscription copies.

While the Telegraph boasted on its front page last Saturday that its lead over The Times had risen again, and it was now 322,177 copies ahead, in full rate sales The Telegraph is only around 48,000 copies ahead of The Times.

The Independent was the only broadsheet to increase its month-on-month and year-on-year circulation last month - barring the specialist readership Financial Times which is not included in the ABC's (Audit Bureau of Circulation's) official broadsheet breakdowns, but which nevertheless continues its impressive progress.

The Guardian suffered a fall of 1.5 per cent on May - which was to its lowest figure since December 98.

Express editor Rosie Boycott will not be greeted by any good news when she returns from her honeymoon. A 0.61 per cent decline from May to June has taken its circulation of 1,094,661 perilously near to under the important one million mark.

In the Sunday broadsheet market, The Sunday Times and the Independent on Sunday both had a poor June, while The Sunday Telegraph and The Observer recorded small increases.

The Independent on Sunday suffered a decline of 2.3 per cent in June. The Observer has increased its export and discounted copies by 5,000.

The Sunday Telegraph, up by 1 per cent, did well from the Royal Wedding. But the satisfaction that it can take is limited. Like its sister daily paper, The Sunday Telegraph's full-rate figure was poor. It sold 348,000 at the proper cover price - the remainder of the 822,414 circulation being either give-aways, discounted or subscription copies.

There is not a single national newspaper that does not have a proportion of discounted copies. But to have well over 50 per cent at less than the cover price is excessive by any standards.

A 4.1 per cent drop month for The Sunday Times seems surprisingly large. The reason lies in the success of its Star Wars magazine in the spring.

The Force is no longer with them. The Sunday Times' circulation in April was 1,402,210, and in May it was 1,397,596. And last month it went down to 1,339,930.