We’re going to try something new with this examination of the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ newsbrand figures for February 2017 – we’re going to try to be positive about them. After the page break, for every time we mention growth in digital audiences not nearly making up for the persistent ongoing collapse in print revenue, we’re going to put a pound in the swear jar. And while it’s going to be tempting to point out that even plans to slightly redress the power balance between publishers and platforms like Google and Facebook are less certain than ever to come to fruition, if we do that, we’ll only be costing ourselves money. So we’re not going to do it.
Let’s begin with the first of many pieces of good news from the latest ABC figures. Most of the national publishers included in the results have increased their daily average browser audiences both month on month and year on year, with only the Telegraph seeing a 12.3 percent YoY fall as a result of its implementation of a paywall around its online content.
The Independent and The Sun were the big winners in terms of raw readership increase, with YoY increases of 45 percent and 122 percent respectively. That puts The Sun, still riding the wave of emerging from behind its paywall in 2015, within striking distance of the Independence in daily average browsers. Both, however, are still way behind the Daily Mail by the same measure.
While the Guardian isn’t included “as it transitions to a new data analytics provider that does not currently supply ABC with sufficient data for an audit”, its internal metrics suggest it saw a 13.8 percent increase in daily average browsers, taking it to over 8,880,000, putting it second in terms of absolute browser numbers.
That’s good! That’s unambigiously a good thing. Though the old adage of ‘print dollars, digital cents’ remains true (when was the last time you heard that?) any increase in a digital audience is an opportunity to sell more ad inventory and grow the proportion of overall ad revenue that comes from digital. It also allows publishers like the Guardian, which has adopted a Wikipedia-style method of appealing for donations, to reach more potentially charitable people. Moreover since a lot of publishers are now trading off the halo effect of their brand to sell products beyond just the news, any increased awareness of those brands can only be a good thing.
Now for the print side of the business.
Despite the Guardian not being included in the digital ABCs, its print performance was ‘in line with market expectations’, with a MoM percentage circulation change of just under 3 percent. Meanwhile its sister title The Observer recorded a YoY increase of 1.4 percent in circulation, of which its editor John Mulholland said:
“The Observer’s superb year-on-year performance continues apace and we are pleased to start 2017 with the knowledge that the title remains a top choice for trustworthy reporting and expert analysis. During these challenging political and economic times we remain focused on delivering quality world-class journalism to our growing audience.”
The Observer’s growth is not the norm for the industry this time round, with only the Times and Telegraph and their Sunday counterparts seeing any growth in the paid-for categories – and that by increasing the number of bulk copies distributed in public places.
But this is the good news ABCs, and while falling print circulations continue to be one long, slow disaster for publishers P&Ls, it might lead to one unambiguously good thing.
It might lead to a few more publishers wholeheartedly embracing paid-for digital products.