Readers go cold on sex and celebrity as political intrigue boosts sales of the qualities

According to post-modernist doctrine, news is not a real commodity. It is invented by journalists who construct facts and invent contexts in which they make sense. There are many objections to this nonsense, but September's ABC figures for national newspapers are ideal.

Nobody except the Prime Minister believes he was not planning an autumn election. Throughout September the fact of his scheming was conveyed to readers by political correspondents, and analysed in commentaries and leaders. It may be coincidence, but quality newspaper circulations increased.

Average sales of quality daily titles rose by 2.02 per cent in September, with The Independent up a sector -leading 4.85 per cent and only the impoverished Scotsman suffering a net monthly decline (5.04 per cent). The Times sold 2.45 per cent more copies than in August, the Financial Times lifted its sales by 3.37 per cent and The Guardian climbed 3.32 per cent.

Performance in the quality Sunday market was similar. The Observer sold 6.69 per cent better than in August, The Sunday Times put on 4.55 per cent and The Independent on Sunday 0.92 per cent. The Sunday Telegraph recorded a marginal 0.54 per cent increase. The big loser was Scotland on Sunday, down 7.06 per cent to a mere 74,410 sales.

It might be possible to put this down to seasonal factors. September is the end of the holiday season. Nights begin to draw in and incentives to go out decrease, leaving more time for reading. But the performance of the red-top titles suggests that cannot be the whole explanation.

The Sun's price cut to 20p in the South-east propelled it to a monthly increase of 1.76 per cent, but the Daily Mirror was stagnant (plus 0.15 per cent) and the Daily Star and Daily Record both recorded declines.

It was a similar story in the Sunday market. The Daily Star Sunday's recent successes were marred by a monthly drop of 8.97 per cent. The People shed 2.55 per cent of its circulation and the Sunday Sport crept up by just 109 copies (0.12 per cent). Only the Sunday Mirror (up 1.81 per cent) and the News of the World (2.81 per cent) bucked the trend.

Can it be possible that political news appealed to readers and hyped gossip and naked speculation had less impact? I shall test the theory again next month, when the impact of the Diana inquest should, by this measure, work to the advantage of popular titles. However, one statistic already offers added reason to hope that serious news sells quality papers: the London Evening Standard increased its daily circulation by 4.9 per cent in September.

Assailed from all sides by lighter, less analytical free titles, it added 13,595 daily sales. Even more encouraging are the annual statistics: the Standard sold 0.66 per cent more copies in September 2007 than in September 2006, its first year-on-year circulation increase since 2005.

Standard insiders attribute this to scoops about Madeleine McCann. If they are right, the evidence still hints at interest in real news. Front pages such as "Official: Kate is a Suspect" had the virtue of being accurate and well-sourced.

My post-modernist colleagues will accuse me of "naive empiricism". But papers have long believed that news sells. Proprietor William Randolph Hearst was accused of fomenting the 1898 Cuban war of independence so his titles could profit by reporting it.

Annual figures remain bleak for paid-for titles. The Financial Times did well (up 2.13 per cent year-on-year), so did The Observer (3.11 per cent), reinforcing rumours that editor Roger Alton is being courted by other papers. But total sales were down in every sector of the paid-for market, leaving the "frees" to show their potential. Metro achieved a national circulation of 1,228,950 copies, up 10.29 per cent on August, while City AM neared its 100,000 target with an audited distribution of 99,108 copies.

Web obsessives take note: there are brighter prospects for print than are visualised in your philosophy.

Tim Luckhurst is professorof journalism at theUniversity of Kent

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific