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Reading between the numbers

Posted on August 18, 2012 by

By now most of you should have seen the latest circulation figures for newspapers in Scotland. As you’ll know, though, Wings Over Scotland likes to delve around below the headlines when it comes to stats, so we’ve had our own rummage, done a little data-bashing and come up with a few hopefully-interesting findings.

First, the basics. The allmediascotland report lists the figures in a strange and seemingly arbitrary order, so here they are ranked biggest-first.


THE TIMES: 18,829
THE I: 17,039


SUNDAY MAIL: 282,073
SUNDAY POST: 185,884
THE PEOPLE: 11,820

With the sole exception of the i (essentially the cut-down tabloid version of the Independent, and a paper we recommend warmly at just 20p despite little Scottish coverage), which has leapt up 37% to overtake the Guardian, all the daily numbers represent hefty falls – mostly between 5% and 25% – on the same period last year.

The Sundays have suffered more dramatically, with typical drops of 25% to 50%, partly because last 2011’s July figures were distorted by a spike in sales caused by people trying new papers in the wake of the closure of the News Of The World. However, that shouldn’t distort the underlying fall, which is almost as big.

If we exclude both the NOTW and its replacement the Scottish Sun On Sunday from the stats, the other Sundays sold 1.03 million copies a week last July and 792,000 this July – a drop of 239,000. However, if we include the SSoS for this year alongside the last available stats we could figure out for the NOTW (from June 2011) the fall is even bigger, at just over 321,000.

Either way that’s a precipitous decline, but the larger figure presents the truer picture because whatever the reasons, that’s how many fewer people are buying a Sunday paper than just over a year ago. Based on those numbers, at the current rate of decline sales of Sunday newspapers will reach zero in fractionally over 3.14 years – or, put another way, around seven months before the next Holyrood election.

(If you apply the lower number it’s not much better, with the last copy of the Sunday Mail being sold in October 2016, presumably to strangle the last Labour voter with.)

The dailies fare better, with a cumulative loss of just 79,281 readers over the year, leaving them with a total combined sale of 893,625. That means they should survive until the end of 2023 (with the i presumably being the last to go).

We also thought it might be interesting to compare sales on a political basis, setting what are broadly left-wing papers against those broadly on the right. That’s a matter of interpretation, of course, but we divided them as follows and we can’t see much room for sensible dispute:


Daily Record, Daily Mirror, Guardian, Observer, Independent and i.


Daily Mail, Daily Star, Daily Express, The Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, The Times and Financial Times

(We’re using relative positioning here, obviously. A staunch Labour paper like the Record could be argued as being as far from the true left wing as Labour itself is, but it’s certainly still to the left of the Express and Mail, say.)

The “left-wing” dailies had a total sale of 300,339. Their right-wing rivals, though, are breathing right down their neck with sales of 296,163. Alert readers will have noticed that we’ve excluded the Scottish Sun from this particular division. The Sun has supported Labour, the Tories and the SNP within the last five years, and we simply don’t think it’s possible to accurately or fairly pin it on either end of the spectrum.

The SNP is by some distance the most left-wing party in mainstream UK politics (for the purposes of this definition of “mainstream” we’re excluding the single Green MP at Westminster and the two in Holyrood), and the Sun’s backing for Alex Salmond’s party therefore makes the traditional ascribing of the paper to the right wing nonsensical. If we give the Scottish Sun a category to itself, though, its sales of 297,123  put it in a three-way tie with the other two groupings.

A reader yesterday suggested to us that the Daily Mail’s surprisingly high sales can be attributed in significant part to the large number of free copies which are given away at airports and the like. We have no idea to what degree that claim is true, but nevertheless the almost-even balance between left- and right-wing newspapers is perhaps an unexpected one given the common belief that Scotland is an inherently much more left-leaning country than the UK as a whole. It’ll be interesting to see how the battle swings over the coming months and years.

(It was much harder to apply this test to the Sunday papers, as there are three high-selling papers it’s difficult to put on either side. The Sun On Sunday, the inimitable Sunday Post and also Scotland On Sunday – which in this blog’s view is less Conservative and Unionist than its sister daily – all exist in a fuzzy limbo which makes the calculation less useful. For the record, it’s 230,000 for the right-wing Sundays, 337,000 for the left, and 441,000 for the ones we can’t label either way.)

Speaking of publications with uncertain alignment, we fear for the fate of the Herald and Sunday Herald, which have redesignated themselves as “regional” papers rather than national ones in order to conceal their sales by only returning six-monthly figures, which is why they don’t feature in this analysis. We’ve been in the journalism trade for over 20 years, and in our experience that move is usually followed closely by oblivion. Then again, if your idea of a bold recovery strategy is to employ Magnus Gardham as your Political Editor, you’ve probably got it coming.

And finally, a quick word about Leveson. The July sales stats come fairly hot on the tail of the end of the noble Lord’s grand inquisition, and despite the media’s obsessive hammering away at Murdoch and his allegedly toxic qualities (and the supposed terrible damage that association with him would do Alex Salmond and the SNP), News International appears to have come away without a scratch in Scotland.

Despite a daily blitz of negative coverage in every non-NI paper for weeks on end, the Scottish Sun’s lead over the Daily Record grew by more than 25% over the period, from 39,240 to 50,082. The Times dropped by just 5.8% and the Sunday Times by 7.3%, while the nearest Scottish equivalents (the Scotsman and SoS) fell by almost exactly twice as much – 12% and 15% respectively. The Scottish Sun is losing readers much less rapidly than the Sunday Mail, and we wouldn’t like to bet on the latter still holding the Sunday crown this time next year. It seems safe to assert that Murdoch’s toxicity is mythical so far as the Scottish public is concerned.

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  1. 22 08 12 07:10

    It’s the little things | laidbackviews

35 to “Reading between the numbers”

  1. Juteman

    As many folk have said before, i think it is simply down to the internet. Once your eyes are opened to the bias, political slant and downright lies that are printed in the MSM, there is no going back. You can get the truth online if you look.
     I would guess that most folk who still buy newspapers are of the older generation. My parents still buy 4 Sunday papers, all of them Unionist, yet they will both be voting YES. They still tend to believe most of what they read though. I think it is simply habit, My dad likes his papers with his Sunday fry-up. 😉

  2. Tearlach

    No data for the Herald or Sunday Herald as they are regional papers? That explains why no figures for the P&J or Dundee Courier I suppose.

    Both big sellers in their target areas, and their political stance may be a wee bit more important in the next two years than Central Belt commentators – or, with the utmost respect Rev. – commentators outwith Scotland, realise.


  3. Martyman

    The Herald and Sunday Herald are probably also losing a few quid from advertising since they put up the pay wall on the website. Yeah, most people probably know how ‘get round’ it, but I wonder if fewer bloggers are linking to Herald articles in their posts? It would be interesting to find out the stats on their website traffic.

  4. Juteman

    I had a couple of reps from DC Thomson at my door a few months ago, asking if i read the Evening Telegraph or Courier. I had a frank exchange of views with them about their Unionist stance, and my subsequent refusal to buy their products, The older guy seemed quite surprised by what i said, and actually asked if was including the Sunday Post in that!

    His young assistant was taking notes, so at least my viewpoint was recorded.

    He asked what it would take for me to start buying their products again, and i replied that a neutral stance would be a start. He seemed upset that i wouldn’t take a free ‘Tele (Tully) off him.

  5. Tris

    I think Scots dislike Murdoch, it’s just that he produces really good papers: good in that they appeal to their target. audience

    His editorial team (or he) has been bright enough to see the way the land lies, and without putting off his unionist readers, he has taken a more sympathetic view to Nationalism. 

    In the SS and SSoS, he has the right mix of sport and show biz gossip along with a little news.

    Let’s be honest, the guy may be revolting, but he knows how to run a newspaper and how to read the runes. 

  6. tammas

    Martyman, I guess I’m too dumb to have realised there was a way round the Herald paywall, but with the exceptions of McWhirter (sometimes) or the occasional letter, I can easily forego the rest. And can this be true – Magnus Gardham at the Herald or Sunday Herald!!!

  7. balgayboy

    Good that these pro-unionist rags are loosing circulation, the quicker the better for me. Let them die along with the rest of the archaic Britnat agenda proponents trying to drive down the people of Scotland’s democratic right to decide their own and only their own decision to choose which option they decide. I know it will be yes in 2014

  8. annie

    I regularly fire off emails to editor at sunday post regarding their pro unionist leanings since 2010 election and the referendum becoming a reality – I predicted in one that their circulation would drop  with all the scottish daily papers out of step with the scottish people who refuse to pay to be lied to – glad to be proved right.

  9. ronlad alexander mcdonald

    I suspect that the vast majority of Daily Record and Sun readers are not influenced by their political opinions. Even Lorraine Davidson stated that football coverage was the Record’s main attraction.   Whether she left on good terms or not, I don’t know.

    It seems to me that the papers that do influence are mostly the right wing rags, especially the Mail, Express and Telegraph. I suspect that they appeal mostly to an older readership, even when considering the apparent huge fallout from younsters buying any paper. Do you have any age breakdowns?    

  10. balgayboy

    Further to my previous comment, our own! paid by us  british propaganda loudspeaker “BBC Scotland” still continues relentlessly to spew out negative stories associated to Scotland. Never a positive or complimentary story on their website. Number one for redundancy, post independence for me. Looking forward to that day.

  11. Juteman

    Re the BBC.
     My licence ran out a while ago, and i never bought another one. I’ve had the threatening letters, and am waiting for a home visit next. No way am i paying for anti-Scottiah propoganda.

  12. Dave

    I’m truly amazed (and saddened) at the number of our kinfolk deluded enough to buy the Daily Heil every day.  It’d be interesting to see the effect of the Metro on the above analysis though.  That’s the only paper I ever get.  Even then I just look at the fitba stories.
    I wonder as well how all their websites are doing hits-wise?  Maybe the falling circulations aren’t hurting them that much if they’re being more than compensated for by online advertising revenues?  Electrons cost less than newsprint after all.  Intreresting stuff.

  13. scottish_skier

    Interestingly, sales in Scotland are on average (bar the Sun) declining at twice the rate compared to the UK as a whole.

    Are Scots more new media savy? I don’t imagine so particularly. I guess its just that they’re fed up with the general to overtly pro-union stance of most papers.  

  14. Stuart M

    Your point about the “left-leaning” nature of papers like the Daily Record goes double for the likes of The Guardian. Whilst the DR’s poitics is of the school playground level, the damage done by the likes of the Guardian is much worse, since it targets people who like to think they can think for themselves. I lost faith with the paper over Iraq, and even today it attempts to rehabilitate Blair on an almost daily basis.
    Medialens is a great website for skewering the kind of insidious BS pumped out by the Guardian.

  15. Macart

    I’ve been on the production end of printing and pre press for just over the same amount of time you’ve been in journalism Rev. I think its fair to say the whole industry is sweating bullets just now. I’ve seen plant after plant and business after business close in the past five or six years, as advertisers pull in their horns in hard times and tech races on apace. Advertising in mags and papers especially has fallen off a cliff and political polarization of editorial departments and publishers alike is not helping the bloody situation. There are times when you could happily swing for those gits and their near suicidal need to meddle in public affairs. Its not hard, its not rocket science, forget political agendas and just report the bloody facts, stay neutral and objective and stay in a f*****g job. Above all be a source of information and an actual functioning service to the public. Give them a reason to trust you.

    The massive leap in communication and information technologies is hard enough for tin pushers and ink monkeys to contend with. Dinosaurs like me who came in at the end of hot metal and started in paste up remember the shock to the industry of doctor Hel’s dot and the start of the digital make ready. Whole rafts of skills and departments died. Comps replaced with imposition software, setters replaced with MAC ART workers (you see what I did there).

    A new generation and a new technology is now having its day and the focus of the publishers is moving away from hardcopy production and increasingly toward online coverage. They’ve already seen the shift in the public’s sourcing of information and are gearing up for the digital age. The best an old tin pusher like me can hope for is that one or two of the bastards in the lofty towers of the publishers and editorial offices go down the crapper with us. I’ve already moved to commercial print (which is having its own hard time right now) after having been involved in one or two small titles but I’ve seen a lot of production colleagues from the big rags take the swans path. I do believe in Karma ‘What goes round…………..’

  16. Doug Daniel

    Of course, the two things these figures can’t tell you is how many people are actually buying newspapers, and how many are actually reading them. In the case of Sunday papers in particular, people buy multiple titles, and it may be that those who buy right-wing rags are more likely to buy multiple titles than those who buy left-wing rags. After all, readership of the right-wing rags is likely to be older on average (since people tend to get more right-wing as they get older), and older people are probably more likely to be buying multiple titles, since they’re sitting in their house with more time on their hands after retirement.

    Similarly, for all we know, left-wing rags are more likely to be bought in households of multiple occupancy, whereas right-wing rags might be the exclusive preserve of hermits.

    Who knows? There is one thing we DO know, though: “if your idea of strategy is to employ Magnus Gardham as your Political Editor, you’ve probably got it coming.” Yes, yes and yes again. I’d noticed a distinct change in direction in the Herald’s reporting of late, but only recently found out he was now political editor. He’s ruined that paper already. Shame, I had high hopes for it over the next couple of years.

  17. Barney Thomson

    “since people tend to get more right-wing as they get older”

    How true. As a boy I was an anarchist, in my twenties a communist and for the last forty years a democratic socialist.

    Still can’t find a party to vote for or a newspaper which reflects my political views. The only paper I have bought in the last twenty years is the Racing Post. BTW, the Edinburgh Evening News sells more copies per day than the Scotsman.


  18. Appleby

    I know a good few people who buy papers for the TV guide alone (or for other supplements) and never read the actual paper.

  19. Tony Little

    Yup, my Dad still buys three or four Sundays just for the crosswords.  So the sales include a good minority of “other” reasons, and not necessarily reflect the politics of the purchaser.
    In any case, the total sales are remarkably small, and falling.  New media really is the future.

  20. Andy Martin

    Off the mark a bit I know, but I would have loved to see Desperate Dan waving a Saltire shouting “Freedom” !  That’s how to get the younger generation interested !

  21. Prophet_Peden

    “It seems safe to assert that Murdoch’s toxicity is mythical so far as the Scottish public is concerned.”

    I disagree. The Sun’s just better, more fun, cheaper and easier to read than any of the rest. I know plenty of folk who started buying the Sun years ago because it was 20p versus the Record’s 35p.

    They’ll openly admit that they think Murdoch is ‘toxic’ but don’t see any dilemma in buying his paper. You get more laughs and interesting articles per penny from the Sun than you do from the Record.

    It’s just like people who complain about dairy farmers treatment at the hands of the supermarkets yet still buy their milk from said supermarkets. It might be hypocritical, but they still see the supermarkets as the bad guys. It’s just human nature.

  22. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “I disagree. The Sun’s just better, more fun, cheaper and easier to read than any of the rest.”

    Missing the point. It’s always been those things. But if people really hated Murdoch, they still wouldn’t buy it. It’s the same paper in Liverpool as it is anywhere else, but you can hardly give the thing away there.

  23. Prophet_Peden

    “Missing the point.”

    No. I think you’re missing my point. The Sun was much cheaper and is still cheaper than either the Record or the Sunday Mail (versus Sunday Sun). The expense element has a lot to do with it.
    Plus, you don’t get a fresh pair of tits in the Record every day – unless of course George Galloway and Joan McBurnie have columns on the same date. 
    I don’t agree with the treatment of Dairy farmers by the supermarkets yet I still buy my milk there.
    I think Murdoch is toxic but I still read the Sun. The politics I take with a pinch of salt,  they’re hardly in your face anyway.
    In Liverpool, if the Sun was the milk sold in a supermarket, then the milk was pissed in and the consumers were told there was something wrong with their taste buds.
    That’s why you couldn’t give the Sun away there. Not a pleasant comparison to make.

  24. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “I think Murdoch is toxic but I still read the Sun.”

    Then he clearly isn’t THAT toxic.

  25. Appleby

    I think Rev Stu dropped the ball on this one. No analysis on the Dandy? The most important comic out of all of these? For shame.

  26. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    I analysed the Dandy AGES ago…

  27. Prophet_Peden

    “Then he clearly isn’t THAT toxic.”
    Murdoch’s press, particularly the Sun, backed the invasion of Iraq in a gung ho, jingoistic and possibly coercive manner with Blair’s government.
    Feel free to explain how much more toxic he could get.
    Or, are a million dead Iraqis not enough to register on the mythical toxicity meter?

  28. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “Feel free to explain how much more toxic he could get.”

    You seem to have misunderstood the meaning of “toxic”. It isn’t a synonym for “unpleasant”.

  29. MajorBloodnok

    Yes, Murdoch is a nasty piece of work but a) a lot of politicians find/found him convenient b) a significant number of journalists hate/envy him (particularly if they don’t work for NI titles) and have tried to use Murdoch as a stick to beat the Tories and SNP (not really Labour … curiously) but c) the average Sun ‘reader’ couldn’t really give a toss.  Has he really poisoned any (significant) politicians and brought about their demise.  Blair got away with it, for example, and he was the worst of the lot.

  30. Prophet_Peden

    “You seem to have misunderstood the meaning of “toxic”. It isn’t a synonym for “unpleasant”.”

    Where did I imply or infer that it was?

    Par pari referto: You also seem to have misunderstood the meaning of “toxic”. It wasn’t used as a synonym for “unpleasant”.

    For the sake of clarification in your copy though, do you measure ‘toxicity’ by the relative speed of the drop in circulation of Scottish newspapers?  
    Or possibly that the Scots public don’t find Murdoch toxic because they buy the Sun in larger numbers than the Record?
    Or that he isn’t toxic because Alex Salmond is still politically alive and kicking and enjoying unprecedented popularity, even though he appears to some to be under Rupert Murdoch’s influence?
    If none of the above, feel free to clarify the intended meaning of toxic in regards to your final assertion. You’ve clearly confused me and I am in sore need of your assistance. 🙂

  31. Adrian B

    You can say what you like about Murdoch. The fact is he has not been by a very long way, anywhere near the worst. Can you remember the Rothchilds?

    Anyway, I found this link over on NNS, with regards to the ongoing story of Julian Assange & Wikileaks. The link is for the Scottish Sun and an article that they have published that has been written by the very well known Glasgow lawyer Aamer Anwar.

    The piece is titled ‘Give Assange to US….if they send us Bush.

    I find it quite enlightening that Anwar has written this and that a paper has then published it. This looks as if it may be the big story of the week. If so then its not going to be a good week for Hague or Cameron.    

    “WikiLeaks exposed thousands of documents on its website including details of mass murder by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, our government training paramilitary death squads in Bangladesh (held responsible for more than 1,000 killings, kidnap and extortion) and torture at Guantanamo Bay.”

  32. douglas clark

    I have, more or less, given up on print journalsim. I, occasionally, buy the Observer, mainly due to the fiendish crossword. I couldn’t care less about its politics, indeed I find most of its comment to be shallow. The rise of the ability to comment on an article has taken the mystique out of the equation. I’d suggest that nobody takes the likes of Madaleine Bunting or Alan Cochrane seriously anymore. For they have been exposed for the frauds they always were, The genie of commentary has only been retracted by the BBC, who can still act in a paternalistic and stupid fashion. Who, here, takes the word of their political editor seriously?

    Just saying that you can’t really make a political point out of who buys what. A decent degree of football coverage – away from the Old Firm – would be enough to make me buy a newspaper again. Sadly that is not happening. If you want to know what is going on then you read Rangers Tax Case or it’s successor.

    What would be interesting is to compare the rise of sites like this, which appears to have asymptotic support, on a rising trend, with old media. Now that is interesting.

    Why is it that Newsnet Scotland, Bella Caledonia and our host’s rather excellent site are knocking print journalism for six in terms of political readership? Is it, perhaps, because they are fulfilling an unmet need?

  33. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “If none of the above, feel free to clarify the intended meaning of toxic in regards to your final assertion.”

    Gladly. “Toxic” means “poisonous to something else”. If people hate Murdoch so much that they stop buying The Sun because it’s associated with him, he’s toxic to it. If they hate him but keep buying it anyway, he self-evidently hasn’t poisoned it – it’s just as healthy as it was before. Simple.

  34. Appleby

    “I analysed the Dandy AGES ago…”
    I should have known better than to doubt you, Rev. I stand corrected. 😀

  35. Ray

    There’s not much anyone can do about the falling sales/readership of these print papers, not even if they all just stuck to reporting fact and became neutral. I just completed four years studying journalism and, apart from one module right at the start of the course where we just talked about what was in the news, nobody in that class had to buy or even look at a newspaper the entire time. The class were of course encouraged to, but the majority of the students did not want to buy a newspaper of any sort or sit and read them.

    These were people who spent four years of their life studying something they could not give a toss about, and I think it might just be because they already see the newspaper as ancient history. I spent at least part of my childhood and teenage years before people had decent internet but these younger students didn’t. If you can’t get younger budding journos to want to understand how news works or how it worked in the past, then newspapers don’t really have a hope in hell.

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