Summary:

We all know sales of printed newspapers are declining in the UK, but determining at what rate is a tricky business: many nationals give awa…

image We all know sales of printed newspapers are declining in the UK, but determining at what rate is a tricky business: many nationals give away vast amounts of free copies to airlines, train companies and hotels to boosts their top line circulation figures, as published by ABC each month.

But twice a year the National Readership Survey offers a glimpse not into how many copies are bought (or given to hotels and airports), but how many are actually read. On this count, the survey found that while circulation plummets thanks to the global economic crisis, in the last six months of 2008, readership went up. Specifically, “quality” newspapers were read more, whilst mid-market and tabloid papers got fewer reads.

Confused? With sales going down, it may be a case of more people sharing fewer copies (did you leave your Times on the tube today?). Although that could be seen as good news for the industry, which depends on amassing reach with which to pitch advertisers, it’s unlikely to have a big impact on actual revenues

“Quality” papers…
– The Times’ readership was up 10 percent in H208 and reached an average daily readership of of 1.76 million during 2008. (ABC Jan circs were down 2.16 percent year on year to 617,000).
The Guardian was up 13 percent in H208, helping to a daily 2008 average of 1.24 million (ABC Jan circs were down 5.7 percent year on year to 358,000).
Financial Times readership was up 16 percent for 2008 overall to 418,000, the biggest riser. (ABC Jan circs were 432,944 (down 3.17%)

Mid-market and tabloid…
– The Daily Mail was down 11 percent in H208 but still had an average 2008 readership of 5.2 million. (ABC Jan circs down 3.67 percent to 2.2 million)
The Sun was down eight percent in H208 — it’s full-year average readership figure was 7.94 million (ABC Jan circs down 1.99 percent to 3.14 million)
– The Daily Mirror was down six percent in H208. (ABC Jan circs down 9.6 percent to 1.36 million)

The NRS stats show readership of newspapers in homes and workplaces is far higher than the circulation figures. So the communal, shared experience of newspapers is a real asset. But with so much UK online news traffic generated through Google (NSDQ: GOOG) search, and a fast-increasing proportion coming from aggregators like Digg, that sharing is fast moving online — the much sought-after viral, office worker email affect on stories is well-known to newspaper editors and journalists of all stripes. And to send your friends a link to an interesting Times article online doesn’t cost 90p — it’s free.

NRS interviewed 37,359 people to get its results — but because the study is randomised it can be prone to sampling variation from one year to the next, so period-on-period comparisons should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Disclaimer: paidContent:UK’s parent company ContentNext is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian News and Media.

By Patrick Smith

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