Taking a step back and looking at the long term decline of print newspaper circulation can be sobering.
Audit Bureau of Circulation figures show that since January 2001, the total circulation of the UK’s ten major national newspapers has declined from 12.06 million copies sold on average each day 14 years ago to a daily average of 6.89 million copies sold in May this year.
That’s a decline of 42.84 percent. If the same number of copies were lost over the following 14 years, the total average daily circulation would be under two million by quite some way, at around 1.7 million daily copies.
But 14 years is a long way off – how about five? Using some rudimentary regression analysis, we extrapolated the circulation trends for the same ten national newspapers 60 months into the future.
The results don’t look too promising, suggesting that the most popular UK paper, The Sun, which currently sells around 2.1 million, will be selling just over one million copies a day on average. The second most popular newspaper, The Daily Mail – which currently sells around 1.7 million daily copies, will have lost around 50 percent and will be selling around 800,000 to 900,000 copies a day on average.
And the figures look even more worrying for The Independent. Currently selling around 60,000 copies a day (and around 20,000 less if the free promotional issues are stripped away) the regression analysis suggests that in as little as a year or two it could effectively cease to exist.
The Indy is a little more complicated however, as it has a sister paper, the i, plugging the gap a little. Not only is the i the only paper to have a growing circulation, but it’s the only paper on an upward trajectory, with its current rate of growth pointing to a total circulation of between 500,000 to 600,000 in five years time.
There are obviously many caveats here. There’s no telling what might disrupt or aid the market in the years to come. The predictions are also based partly on the premise that newspapers won’t be doing anything to change their luck, and we don’t know of a single publisher that isn’t trying to fix things.
We have included the R values, however, otherwise known as the coefficient of correlation. Although low R values are not always bad and high values are not always good, as a rough rule of thumb, the closer the R value is to 1, the better.
Of course, these figures also don’t take into account the digital offerings, which publishers are banking on to fill the gap left behind by print’s decline, both in readership and revenue. But while print decline is just one part of the story for newspapers, the numbers show quite how radically things have changed in a relatively short period of time, and how much further print circulation looks set to fall.