The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) releases its latest regional press figures on Friday and, if research is to be believed, the figures will be looking a lot healthier than they have done for the past 20 years.
Total regional circulation figures have been declining at a rate of about two per cent per year over the past two decades, against a background of decreasing numbers of titles and declining revenue.
However, the fortunes of the 2.7bn regional press advertising and sales market are starting to rebound. While circulation figures appear to be stabilising, regional press’ share of national advertising revenue is increasing at a much more rapid rate than other media.
In fact, in market research carried out in July, Mintel forecast that total regional newspaper revenue would rise 20 per cent by the year 2001.
Advertising revenue is estimated to account for 2bn of the 2.7bn value of the regional press market.
Regional press, the second biggest medium in the UK after television, includes 1,206 titles, 70 per cent of which are owned by the UK’s ten largest publishing houses, with a combined weekly circulation of more than 60 million.
The latest Target Group Index (TGI), an annual survey of 25,000 consumers carried out by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB), shows that regional and local newspapers are read by 85.8 per cent of adults in the UK, a figure which outstrips both magazines and national newspapers. Mintel’s findings support this, as 86 per cent of respondents read a regional or local title.
Although last year’s readership figure was higher at 88 per cent, and despite the loss of some titles, the adult profile is still healthier than that of the nationals, which have a 73.3 per cent adult readership.
Mike McCormack, chief executive of regional sales house AMRA, says that national advertisers have woken up to the fact that, while the nationals reach every single region, the regionals tend to reach more people within each of them.
Examples McCormack cites are the Western Mail, a daily newspaper with circulation figures which outstrip The Telegraph, Times, Independent and Guardian put together in South Wales, and the Liverpool Echo, a daily which has ten times the penetration of The Sun in Merseyside.
Charles Ross, national development manager at the Newspaper Society, says that the marketing of regional press is now encouraging advertisers to use the bond between the community and its local newspaper.
“We are witnessing a shift towards local marketing as more and more clients adapt their strategies for specific local markets. Advertisers are developing a new understanding of the regional press and its unique relationship with customers,” he says.
Before television came onto the scene, regional press was the number one advertising medium, a situation McCormack is confident will eventually return as “mass media is in decline. Advertisers are going back to a medium which delivers. If people want to get bodies through doors, regional press works,” he says.
His argument appears to be convincing some advertisers. National display advertising is a key growth area for the regional press. A recent survey by the Advertising Association shows that national display advertising revenue in regional and local press has grown by 14.4 per cent – the highest year-on-year increase the industry has achieved in a decade.
By contrast, the figure for radio was 11.8 per cent, while national press grew 7.9 per cent and television 6.7 per cent.
ACNielsen-MEAL figures show that, when comparing the first six months of 1997 with the same period last year, expenditure in the regionals by the top 100 regional press advertisers grew by 31.3 per cent.
Regional press’ share of national display advertising for the first quarter of 1997 has increased to 3.8 per cent from 3.6 per cent the previous year at the expense of TV and magazines, whose share has fallen.
Of the top 50 advertisers, 78 per cent increased their expenditure in regional press. Over the same period, expenditure by the same advertisers within national press or television has not been nearly as sparkling.
McCormack ascribes any overall rise in circulation to “better products” produced by publishing giants such as Trinity International Holdings, Johnston Press and the Newsquest Media Group.
“[The recent] changes in ownership mean that there are people out there who are deadly serious about regional press and are investing more in the best technology and editorial. They are now delivering much more to their readers,” he says.
National newspaper groups also appear to be waking up to the potential in the regional market. The Mirror Group has recognised the promise in the regional press market and recently bought into that potential with the acquisition of Midland Independent Newspapers.