The Latest Trends From Press - July 2020

Ben Evans brings us the latest news from the Press Landscape

In an ever increasing digital landscape, print circulations have been declining for over 20 years.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has made this situation even more pronounced. With consumers understandably reluctant to leave their homes, many have been physically unable to obtain their favourite newspapers and magazines.

This has forced many people to consume media in other ways, as evidenced in the previous Media Scoop that explored the rise in audio listenership. Online newsbrands have also experienced accelerated growth as consumers have turned to different formats for their news updates.

As the nation prepared to stay at home for a prolonged period, the effect on print media advertisers was significant, with many cancelling or at least postponing upcoming campaigns. According to Nielsen data, press spend for April-June was down 43% year on year. Although we are gradually taking steps towards ‘normal’ life, the impact of the lockdown will be felt in the print industry for many months to come.

National Press

Despite declining print circulations the overall reach of UK newsbrands actually increased prior to lockdown. The combined readership of print and digital across different devices saw significant growth, with a 35% increase in daily readers year on year (+6.6m). Since lockdown newsbrands have been an increasingly important source of information for consumers seeking regular news updates.

Nevertheless, even the largest titles in the UK have felt the impact of the pandemic. Reach (who own the Daily Mirror and Daily Express) and The Guardian have announced job cuts, while News UK (The Sun, The Times) have warned of similar losses as they look to cut costs following significant drops in revenue.

However, national circulations have shown signs of recovery more recently, with only the Metro, who have reduced their print run due to smaller commuter numbers, and Financial Times seeing further declines.

In the midst of the pandemic, a significant move has been made in the way that news readership is reported. ABC revealed new data reporting options for the circulation figures of national newspapers, which allow publishers to opt out of making their figures publicly available through ABC. However when titles opt to go private within ABC, media agencies will still be able to see the circulation numbers for trading purposes. Additionally, instead of a monthly release, data will now be rolled out throughout the month. These changes have been made in order to "create a balance" in how national newspapers "tell their story of growth to the market".


The full impact of COVID-19 on magazines is still unclear, but early signs show that the majority of publications have seen a decline in circulation.

Many consumers swapped laid back, less frequent magazine content for more up-to-date daily news stories. In the same way that newspaper consumption has shifted towards online formats, an increasing number of consumers have been going online for their magazine content too.

However, there have been some positive stories for magazines mainly across TV titles and subscriptions. Most TV titles saw an increase in readership, as people prepared to spend a large part of their time at home during lockdown. Although there are no industry figures available, some publications with subscription copies have benefited from the pandemic, with certain titles seeing three to four figure percentage increases in this area.

In addition, ES Magazine, the Evening Standard’s weekly free supplement, is returning to distribution in September after being suspended at the start of lockdown. This will give hope to the magazine and regional press sector that they can soon return to normality.

Local Press

Regional press has been hit the hardest by COVID-19, with April-June spend down over 47% year on year. This sharp decrease in ad revenue and logistical challenges means a number of major towns have lost their key local newspaper.A number of publications who have remained afloat have had to significantly reduce circulation. For loyal local readers (often older consumers) this has meant a trusted source of news has now been lost.

This recent change has accelerated the decline of an already shrinking market.The second half of 2019 saw circulations for regional newspapers decline by 6.06% vs. the first half of 2019, and 15.51% year on year.

Titles are reviewing their performance on an ongoing basis, to see if it is feasible for them to continue. Given the pace and scale of change over recent months it is unlikely that this sector of press will truly return to ‘normal’ as we knew it before lockdown.

The UM View

What this means for advertisers

Although there have been shoots of recovery in the last month, it is almost certain that we will continue seeing print circulations decline.

Regional press has been hit the hardest of all which will be most problematic for older consumers who are more loyal to their local paper. With local publications forced to cease operating as a result of the pandemic, brands that rely on traditional channels to convey a local message will have to explore new routes to reach their audiences.

On a more positive note, the time is right for advertisers to explore potential deals that may have previously been cost prohibitive. These deals could be on standard advertising or more bespoke content opportunities. With trust in newsbrands increasing, brands should work collaboratively with publications, to align their message with trusted content, driving relevance and deeper engagement.

The change in the way titles record their circulations is a tell-tale sign that the focus has shifted from siloed print and digital audiences. The Telegraph Media Group pulled out of ABC audits, instead wishing to look to at their subscription numbers across both print and digital. The Sun and The Times have also opted to keep their circulation figures private. Titles are starting to focus on the bigger picture, and audiences should start being viewed as one.

Consumers are engaging with newsbrands online more than ever before. With uncertainty over the recovery of print circulations to pre-lockdown levels, fully integrated campaigns that encompass digital as well as traditional print formats must be considered.


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