Media: Too hot to read

The heatwave is bad news for newspapers, reports David Lister
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The Independent Culture
IMAGINE THE typical English summer scene, sitting in a deck chair or on a park bench, reading the newspaper, as the sun beats down from a cloudless sky. It will need some imagination; for while the weather has duly obliged with a welcome heatwave, newspaper sales have been suffering a depression surprisingly early in the summer.

National newspaper sales began to fall off in the last weeks of June. The latest ABC figures showed only three titles escaped a circulation drop last month. As school term dates preclude a major shift to early holidays, the good weather seems largely responsible.

Why should newspaper reading be a casualty of hot weather?

Dr Mark Griffiths, reader in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, says: "The last thing people want to do in hot weather is buy newspapers. Newspaper reading is still largely seen as an indoor activity. Personally, I'm someone who likes to take the Sunday papers out and have a pub lunch; but I'm not typical.

"Another factor is that we know people are getting their news more from radio and TV, and using newspapers for lifestyle and entertainment articles. In the summer when they are on leave, they are more likely to get this material from magazines, associating magazines more than newspapers with leisure time." Barry Thomas, assistant circulation manager at The Express, says the trend hasn't been too severe, though the ever increasing number of people taking foreign holidays continues to bite into sales.

But whatever blips the nationals suffer, the problem is worse for a commuter paper like London's Evening Standard which tends to have a 4 per cent drop in circulation when commuter outlets are less used during during school holidays in July and August.

The Standard's circulation manager, Jim Freeman, adds: "Patterns of behaviour and habits change due to the hot weather, which means people are less likely to buy a newspaper, partly as they are away from the workplace. When a big story breaks we can still buck the trend, but stories tend to be weaker over the summer months; and as news drives sales quite considerably, the lack of big stories means our sales figures will inevitably fall."

At The Guardian university vacations are as much of a summer headache as school holidays. The circulation manager, Bob Steadman, says: "The large majority of our readership is young, and more often than not students, who in many cases go abroad over the summer months. Therefore, they are not so obsessed with finding a copy of their normal newspaper."

Barry Allsop, circulation controller of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, says: "Traditionally our sales remain quite stable throughout the summer period. But we do tend to promote during summer months."

So a side effect of hotter summers could be increased marketing spend.