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How long have newspapers got? Circulation to shrink by a quarter in five years

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Newspapers


How long have newspapers got? Circulation to shrink by a quarter in five years

We all know print circulation is in decline, but what will the print part of the industry look like in five years time? 

Looking at the ABC's six-monthly averages over the last five years:

--Newspaper print readership has fallen an average of 3.08 percent every six months.

-- Daily newspaper circulation has fallen 2,6 million - equivalent to 22.5 percent of total circulation - over the last five years. 

--Over the same period the decline in average Sunday paper circulation has been even more sharp, falling almost 28 percent - equivalent to more than 3.3 million copies.

--If you average out Sunday and Daily losses, that's a decline of more than 2.9 million, or slightly more than a quarter. 

Therre are a whole host of factors that could influence the circulation of print versions of newspapers over the next few years. The rapid growth of connected devices - especially mobiles, could for instance accelerate the declining demand for print. But if we take the trends of the last five years as a starting point, we can still get some idea of where print is headed, and it will come as little surprise to find out that if these trends continue, print will be radically smaller by 2017.

If you extrapolate the 3.08 percent decline for the next five years Sunday and daily newspapers will see their circulation fall by another 2.4 million by September 2017. Total average circulation across Sundays and dailies will be 6.4 million, compared to 11.8 million in 2007, a fall of more than 45 percent in a decade. 

(click the graphs for bigger views)

Past and predicted declines in combined daily and Sunday print circulations

That drop and then rise in total circulation you can see during the last year - that's the demise of the news of the world and launch of the Sun on Sunday. 

For an idea of how the industry will shrink, here's a bubble graph.

Shrinking print circulation

Some papers are in more trouble than others

Of course not all newspapers are seeing their print circulation fall at the same rate. 

Print circulation decline - past and predicted - by newspaper

The Independent looks set to be the biggest loser. Going by the trends of the last five years, the circulation will fall 64 percent over the next five years - equivalent to 56,000 copies - leaving it with a circulation of just 31,000. Of course the Indy is relying on the i which has grown rapidly since its launch - to make up for much of that loss, Even if the i stopped adding readers today it would still add a very healthy 277,000 readers to the Independent's total circulation, taking it to well over 300,000 even with the rapid shrinking in Indy circulation.

The Guardian on the other hand doesn't have any such ploy to keep its print presence up - and at the rate its circulation has declined over the last five years, the paper is set to be the second biggest loser among the dailies. If the trends continue, it will lose 46 percent of its circulation over the next five years, leaving the number of copies out there at just 115,000. The picture for the Observer is even bleaker. Its circulation is falling at a rate of 3.85 percent every six months - only the Sindy and Scotland on Sunday have seen more rapid declines - and if that continues, there will only be 124,000 copies of the Observer on the kitchen tables of the nation by the end of summer 2017. 

Guardian and Observer decline 2

In comparison, the UK's two best-selling newspapers - the Sun and the Daily Mail - have remained relatively resilient over the last five years. Both have seen their circulation fall by only slightly more than an average of 2 percent each six months. If that trend continues, the Sun will still have a circulation of more than 2 million, and the Mail will still have more than 1.5 million copies in circulation.

That variation is against a backdrop of overall decline of the industry, but there is one newspaper that appears to be bucking the trend - The Daily Star Sunday. The Richard Desmond-owned title got a big bump from the closure of the News of the World, and that is rapidly wearing off. But nevertheless it finished September this year with a circulation a good 60,000 more than in 2007.That may have something to do with the marketing spend Desmond's Northern Shell Group puts into promoting the title.

Daily star circulation 2

Image curtousey of s i m o n d via flickr

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