Silly season handouts help `Express' play catch-up

Sales figures show the Mail's big lead is narrowing.

AUGUST IS not the traditional time to run newspaper promotions as evidenced last week when the starting gun of September went up and half of Fleet Street seemed to see Richard Branson's life story as their circulation salvation.

In fact the two newspapers which tried a small amount of marketing and promotional work last month have made healthy returns in the ABC newspaper figures for August.

The Express promoted a Millennium scratch card game which helped it increase sales by 28,000 copies more than July. The effect of this is best seen in comparison with the Daily Mail which lost over 33,000 copies in August compared with the month before.

The Express' deficit to the Mail is still mammoth - the Mail has double the market share of the tabloid press that The Express has - and Rosie Boycott's newspaper is still selling 64,000 copies fewer than it did in August 1997. Nevertheless, a 2.53 per cent growth in sales during one of the worst sales months of the year is still an achievement worth noting.

Unfortunately for The Express, the Mail is now running its own money give away game and the direction of readers may be reversed during September.

The Mail's sales drop helped keep The Mirror 50,000 ahead of it, making the late Lord Rothermere's worries about the Mail becoming too popular look premature.

The Mirror stood virtually still compared with the month before and compared with August 1997 but in a declining popular market standing still is often as good as growth.

David Yelland's Sun bucked the trend of previous months and grew faster than The Mirror during August: it was up by 29,000 copies a day. But its year-on-year figures are still a cause for worry. In August 1997 the title sold 156,000 copies a day more than this August.

Because the Mail has put on almost 100,000 copies in the same 12 month period, the popular market is only down by 193,000 year-on-year, but between them the Daily Star, The Sun and The Express have lost a worrying 288,707 copies a day, fully 2.6 per cent of the entire popular newspaper market.

In Scotland the Daily Record had a remarkably strong month, increasing by 4.56 per cent month on month. It was partly helped by the earlier start of the Scottish football season but Martin Clarke is earning plaudits for his newspaper which has increased sales every month since May, thereby reversing the usual summer trend. Industry analysts also expect the Record to do better as Scotland approaches devolution because of its deeper-rooted heritage as a Scottish newspaper.

This newspaper had a small burst of television advertising and a promotional tie-in with The Avengers film which helped to maintain the title's underlying growth during the weak summer period.

Sales of The Independent increased by 0.43 per cent, or just under 1,000 copies a day. This is positively blooming compared with The Guardian's loss of over 10,000 during August and The Times's loss of 11,000 compared with July.

The Times sold 739,285 during August - over 100,000 copies a day fewer than it was selling in January.

Even accounting for the summer downturn, the feeling must be that the title has extracted all the sales it can from its current price and marketing strategy and needs to spend more of Rupert Murdoch's money if it is to hold readers.

For The Observer, a change of editor and a more newsy product came too late to stop it falling below the benchmark figure of 400,000.

August notwithstanding, The Guardian-owned title was down 13,405 compared with July and 28,000 lower than the year before.

Despite the launch of big gun promotions, book serialisations and television advertising, September could be a sticky month for all broadsheet newspapers. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales boosted all of the quality titles to record September highs. Comparing the coming month with last year is only going to make them all look bad.

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