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?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power