Sharks and Enid Blyton fail to stem the circulation gloom

On The Press: Despite an array of promotions, latest figures show only a few titles are bucking the downward trend

The fall in newspaper sales continues. In comparisons with July 2005, it was worse for the red-top tabloids than for any other sector of the market. Exceptions to the downbeat overall picture were few and far between, this paper being one of the exceptions.

Every national newspaper sold fewer copies in July 2006 than in July 2005, except The Independent on Sunday (IoS), The Observer, The Guardian and Financial Times. Of those four, three are newspapers which were broadsheet at the comparison point 12 months ago, and the FT is a specialist paper which has changed its editor and put more emphasis on its domestic sales after a long period of overseas concentration.

The IoS had the biggest percentage rise, 4.6, and was the only one of the four to increase sales month-on-month as well as year-on-year. The Guardian and its stablemate, The Observer, are up 3.4 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively year on year.

The Daily Telegraph, which has employed all kinds of tactics to keep its audited sale above 900,000 (it seems no time since it was fighting to stay above a million) dropped to 897,000 in July.

The Times, which did well in maintaining the gains it made through turning compact, is now going through a difficult period, with sales down 4.4 per cent year-on-year, the largest fall of any of the former broadsheets. It did, however, increase sales by 1.6 per cent in July compared with June.

The Independent showed easily the best performance of all the dailies in this month-on-month measure of sales, increasing by 3.8 per cent from June to July. The compact Independent continues to sell over 30,000 more copies than the broadsheet it replaced.

The marketing and promotions departments play an increasingly significant role in wooing readers. A year ago we were talking about DVDs taking over from CDs as publishers tried to hold sale even at some cost. The flavour of the past month has been the glossy poster - The Guardian offered sharks and other wildlife; The Independent opted for artists ancient and modern.

The films have still been appearing, many targeted at children. The Mail titles have blitzed the children's favourites market. The Telegraph has been characteristically retro with old-fashioned audio books by old-fashioned Enid Blyton, although they have used the CD rather than the cassette format. The language courses, pioneered by The Independent and much imitated elsewhere, have continued to draw sales. These bolt-ons are now embedded in the business of selling newspapers.

The old tabloid (red-top) end of the market continues to suffer the most. This takes on new significance with Trinity Mirror, owners of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror as well as The People, now admitting they are analysing the case for selling their national titles.

Chief executive Sly Bailey has appointed Rothschilds to review the business, and the case for or against selling parts of it is included in the brief.

The bankers will not be impressed by the steady decline of all three national newspapers. They will see the Daily Mirror's sale is down 5.3 per cent year-on-year, the Sunday Mirror down 3.0 per cent and The People down a frightening 13.9 per cent.

These are not rogue figures; they represent a trend and a rate of decline that has continued over a long period. Rupert Murdoch's leaders in this sector of the market, The Sun and News of the World, are also showing steady falls in sales. The Sun is down 4.1 per cent year-on-year and the News of the World 5.9 per cent.

Yet you can be sure that if Trinity Mirror decides to sell, there will be several potential buyers sniffing around. There is still plenty of money to be made in this declining market.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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