PRESS WATCH

With readership and revenue falling, Express Newspapers needs large-scale, sustained investment to stem the advance of Associated Press

Rumours abound about Express Newspapers, but this week one thing seems certain: it looks set for a large-scale brands investment to reverse the years of decline.

So far this year, Express Newspapers has lost one editor, combined its printing operation with The Telegraph and gone through the upheaval of a failed attempt to merge its salesforce with the same newspaper. Indeed, its performance has not been particularly notable for most of the Nineties. Since 1993, the Daily Express has lost 253,000 of its circulation and its adult readership has fallen by 888,000. The Sunday Express has lost 468,000 of its circulation and 1,196,000 of its readership.

Competitors at Associated Press are faring much better, with the Daily Mail increasing circulation by 283,000 and readership by 286,000 since 1993. The Mail on Sunday has increased circulation by 79,000 and readership by 319,000 in the same period.

There is little doubt that most of this decline can be attributed to a combination of lack of investment in the products and an ageing readership. The Express Group has spent about 8.5m on advertising annually for the past three years (source MMS). Furthermore, its investment in the products themselves has not been outstanding, with the exception of the new Sunday Express sports section.

Associated Press, on the other hand, has been pumping money and talent into its titles for some years, both in ad expenditure and product development. Its current advertising expenditure is about twice that of the Express Group: in 1995 it spent 16m and its spend to July 1996 is over 8m (source MMS).

The Express Group has lost readers, for both its titles, in the younger bracket (15 to 30 year-olds). The titles have become old, weak and under-funded in a matter of a few years.

The departure of the Sunday Express’ former editor, Sue Douglas, has fuelled speculation about the intentions of United News & Media’s executive director of newspapers, Stephen Grabiner. It has emerged that he will combine the two newspapers into a seven-day operation headed by the former Daily Express editor, Richard Addis. Continued rumours about sales staff redundancies, on top of the 85 editorial job losses already announced, are circulating around the industry.

But is a 10m rejuvenation package all that separates Express Newspapers from the dizzy heights of success experienced by Associated? There are suggestions of an above-the-line ad campaign coupled with minor changes to the product, such as a Monday to Saturday sports section and a doubling of the colour capacity. These changes smack of “too little, too late”. It is foolish to think that a short-term injection of cash and enthusiasm can make up for years of neglect. The titles are in chronic need of sustained investment combined with an aggressive marketing/advertising strategy. If they are to succeed, they need to tap into the younger, upmarket readership which has been so useful to their competitors.

A long-term solution is more important than the short-term face- lift on offer.

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