The capture of the tartan hordes

Will the English win the Scottish newspaper wars? By John Arlidge

Last month Britain's newspaper industry witnessed an historic event that few noticed. Not because it was a frivolous development but because it happened 400 miles away from the newsrooms and circulation departments of Fleet Street - in Scotland. For the first time, the combined sales of the main English broadsheets, the Independent, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, exceeded the sales of the Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper.

This fact may seem irrelevant to all except those media barons bidding to buy the Scotsman, which was put up for sale two weeks ago. Yet it marks a fundamental shift that could transform the newspaper business over the next decade.

Since the Scotsman was established in 1817, Britain has had two distinct "national" newspaper markets - the English, centred on London-based titles, and the Scottish, dominated by regional papers such as Edinburgh's Scotsman, the Aberdeen Press & Journal, the Dundee Courier and Glasgow's Herald and Daily Record. The English titles prospered south of the border and did not invest greatly in Scotland, leaving the Scottish papers free to pile up sales and profits in their city-based fiefdoms. It was a cosy duopoly.

But sales of English newspapers are rising sharply in Scotland at the expense of local titles (see table). As the newspaper price war rages on, the old duopoly is breaking down and England and Scotland are merging into a single newspaper market. This is a radical change which, media analysts argue, threatens the long-term future of indigenous Scottish titles.

"The trend is unmistakable," says Morven Gow, a Glasgow-based analyst. "The old myths - that English titles could not prosper in Scotland and that, come what may, the Scotsman and the Herald would continue to sell around 100,000 copies each day - have now been debunked. As sales of the English papers increase, the more the media landscape changes, and the weaker the Scottish titles begin to look."

The speed with which the Scottish newspaper market has been transformed is startling. What is less surprising is that it is the result of the actions of one man - Rupert Murdoch, head of News International. In 1987 he challenged the conventional wisdom when he launched a separate Scottish Sun, written, edited and printed in Glasgow. At a purpose-built plant on the banks of the Clyde, the cockney title changed its character almost overnight. Unlike the kilt-edged Scottish editions of other London- based titles, the "Currant Bun" wrapped itself in tartan, put a thistle on its masthead and abandoned the Tories for the Scottish nationalist cause.

At first, Glasgow's legendary hack pack scoffed. Despite the Sun's best efforts, they predicted, Scots readers would not be fooled and the "Sassenach pretenders" would receive a drubbing. It didn't happen. Within months the English-owned title began to capture readers from its rivals and attract a new generation of young Scots. Circulation rose steadily from its 231,000 daily sale in 1987 to 370,000 copies early last year - a 60 per cent rise.

Then Murdoch made his second move. His decision to cut the price of the Times, first to 30 and then to 20 pence, led to a sharp rise in circulation north of the border. Daily sales of the Times, which had been threatening to dip below the psychologically important 10,000 mark, leapt to more than 20,000 and began to nudge 30,000 on Saturdays. By last summer all the other London-based broadsheets, except the Guardian, had entered the price war. Their sales, too, increased as readers abandoned Scottish titles, which could not compete on price. Faced with falling circulation, Scottish editors like Andrew Jaspan, then in the chair at the Scotsman, began to warn that the future of the quality press north of the border was at risk.

Following his success with the Sun and the Times, Murdoch began printing a Scottish edition of Today in Glasgow. The Mirror and the Daily Star secured new offices and printworks on Clydeside last summer, to be followed at the turn of the year by the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. Their success was instant. The Mail increased sales by a huge 85 per cent in its first six months.

Today, Glasgow is Britain's most competitive media marketplace. Eight national dailies and three national Sundays are now written and printed on Clydeside - more than at any other time in Scotland's history. For Glasgow veterans like George McKechnie, the editor of the Herald, the change is startling. "It's always been a competitive business here but it is tougher today and more fluid than at any time I can remember. After everything we've been through, this is wild and at times worrying."

Analysts insist that McKechnie and his opposite number at the Scotsman, James Seaton, have good reason to worry. Both the Herald and the Scotsman are losing market share to English titles. The Herald, which sold almost 130,000 copies a day eight years ago, has now slumped to 108,000, and Caledonian Publishing, which owns the title, is the subject of bid speculation. The Scotsman, too, is up for sale. Its circulation figure for last month - 76,616 - is the lowest in living memory.

Media observers argue that most Scots are abandoning local broadsheets because the English papers are bigger and cheaper and therefore offer better value. The Scotsman and the Herald are also vulnerable because, they say, their editors have been content merely to shore up local city- based circulation and have failed to tackle the uncompetitive working practices which disappeared south of the border after Murdoch's Wapping revolution.

McKechnie refutes this. "We have made great efforts to improve efficiency and to widen our appeal across Scotland and we will continue to do so," he says. "It is true that the English imports which are being dumped on the market offer lots of supplements, but their Scottish coverage is just tokenistic. Scots readers want Scottish content and that is what we supply better than anyone else. In the long run, we are a daily national Scottish newspaper and we, like the Scotsman, will prosper."

One thing is certain. Scotland is now an integral part of the UK newspaper market, and Scottish papers are locked into a new battle for readers.

Scottish newspaper circulations*

Jan-June '94 Jan-June '95 % change

Daily Record 736,674 746,861 +1.0

Scottish Sun 370,000 369,799 -0.05

Scottish Daily Express 129,091 120,827 -6.5

The Herald (Glasgow) 113,342 108,247 -4.5

The Courier (Dundee) 108,223 104,883 -3.5

P&J (Aberdeen) 106,960 108,521 +1.5

The Scotsman 83,553 79,227 -5.5

Scottish Daily Star 43,000 41,845 -3.0

Scottish Daily Mail 37,852 69,763 +85.0

Daily Telegraph 26,678 28,686 +7.5

Scotland's Mirror 17,432 20,431 +17.0

Scotland Today 16,262 19,790 +21.5

The Times 15,708 23,340 +48.5

(*Average daily sale. Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation and trade estimates)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all