2018 in numbers: the press

New figures have shown a resurgence in physical book sales in the UK in 2018. Kindles be damned: tea-stained covers and dog-eared pages are here to stay. But, alas, it was not such a buoyant year for Above the Fold’s favourite printed media.

Indeed, the printed press has endured a torrid year. At the time of writing*, not a single publication – whether freesheet or paid-for – has achieved year-on-year circulation growth.

The Barclay brothers have had the worst of the media’s collective annus horribilus. The Daily Telegraph has lost 22 per cent of its audience in the last 12 months, with The Sunday Telegraph losing 17 per cent. Collectively, that’s more than 155,000 readers who have abandoned the Telegraph Group’s printed editions.

The formation of Reach from the Trinity Mirror Group and the publishing assets of Northern & Shell was a key media story of the year, yet CEO Simon Fox has had little to celebrate since the February merger. The amalgamation has so far had no effect on the dwindling readerships of Reach’s portfolio—its star publications all suffering double digit year-on-year percentage decline.

The Daily Mirror (-12%), Daily Star (-15%) and Daily Express (-12%) may still enjoy a collective audience of 1.2 million, but Reach must find a way to address this fall should it want to avoid another year pockmarked by redundancies.

Even the big boys of Fleet Street, despite a political narrative well-suited to their editorial outlooks, could not escape the decline. The Sun losing over 87,000 readers, and the Daily Mail losing an enormous 161,000, has seen the “freesheet” reach its zenith. 2018 was the year in which Metro overtook the traditional printed press for the first time, having long challenged the established players. With more than 1.4 million daily readers, it’s currently sitting pretty at the top of the pile.

Above the Fold”, we hear you cry, “surely it’s because everyone’s reading their news online.” Well, nice try, friends—but not quite. The evidence suggests that news websites have had just as nasty a year as their print ancestors. Mail Online, formerly the world’s guiltiest pleasure, seems to have lost its addictive power—it lost more than 2.1 million daily browsers over the course of the 2018. The Sun online, too, has seen its audience fall by 12%.

Grim reading all round. The news media, across formats, seems to have lost its relevancy, its authority and its allure. What drives this could be political fatigue, a collective loss of trust, or a myriad of other combined factors.

But there’s no time for a pity party. 2019 must be the year in which the industry resets, innovates, and finds a way in which to connect with its audience once again.

The Guardian has already started; its experiment to find a new way to fund journalism – by asking its readers to support with as much as they could – was an unprecedented success. The campaign attracted 1 million supporters over 2018—proof that new thinking, and putting an audience at the heart of strategy, can break the status quo.

Let’s see what the others can do.


*All figures taken from the latest available data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)—covering Nov 2017 to Nov 2018