NRS data gives valuable insight into publishers

Mike Ironside, chief executive of the National Readership Survey, explains what the organisation’s latest research means for the media industry.

Mike Ironside
Mike Ironside

No one in the media industry would be prepared to deny that the British publishing industry is going through a time of great change. Rupert Murdoch’s recent announcement that The Times is preparing to charge the public for online content is the latest in a swathe of developments in online publishing that has highlighted the pace of developments on the web.

There are huge issues at stake for publishers of traditional print media. Will online current affairs cannibalise readership of newspapers and magazines, or will readers opt for a multi-platform approach: up-to-the-minute news via mobile devices, while perusing in-depth, creative commentary from the print editions?

It is testament to print that, despite almost two decades of a surge in internet usage, failures among national newspapers at least have been few and far between. Editorial content has been adapted sufficiently for print to retain a measure of authority. But the warning signs are there.

The latest figures from the National Readership Survey tell their own story. There does not appear to have been any uniform change in readership by type of national newspaper. For example, some of the quality titles in the survey show steep or even statistically significant falls in readership, while others show healthy increases. The mid-markets did not fare too well, staying on an even keel or displaying a drop in their readers, while most of the tabloids were almost all down on a year-on-year basis. The print media market is clearly evolving as technology changes the way we consume media and the shake-out in readership with probably continue.

Meanwhile, the London regionals and freesheets were of significant interest in this survey period. With two of the free titles leaving the scene (The londonpaper and LondonLite), the picture was more positive for Metro according to its readership figures. For its part, the London Evening Standard is still watched closely by media commentators following the arrival of owner Alexander Lebedev earlier this year, and the publisher’s decision to go free-to-market from this autumn.

The weekend national newspapers are also in a state of flux. None of the Saturday supplements showed an increase in readership. Overall, the Sunday newspaper market has also taken a hit on readership, with a few double-digit falls year-on-year that were all statistically significant. It is hard to tell why weekend reading habits have changed, although it could be that busy lifestyles prevent us from having as much time to spend leafing through their many sections. These trends indicate that the weekend titles look set to face a challenging market in 2010.

In magazines, the market for lads’ mags remains volatile, but customer publishing in general remains strong. Some of these official publications of brands or organisations including retailers and home entertainment providers, have seen significant increases in readership, and interestingly amongst both men and women – even though many are editorially aimed at the latter.

As with every NRS data release, titles are subject to ups and downs in terms of their readership. But however each publication has fared in the latest data, it’s clear that the times are changing for readership of British newspapers and magazines, and publishers will have to remain fleet of foot to keep pace with consumer behaviour – or risk being left behind.

The full data for the period ending September 2009 can be found at

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