Sunday Herald Suffers 21 per cent Sales Fall

The Sunday Herald newspaper has seen its average sale in Scotland collapse by over 20 per cent, compared to this time last year.

Following a sales uplift when it was relaunched on the ninth of January – as a single-section, 'news magazine' – its sales in Scotland have since gone into decline. In December, its average sale in Scotland was 39,687. In January – during which its sale on the ninth was a reported 47,770 and then the following week slightly higher –  its overall average was 42,924, suggesting a sharp dip on the 23rd and the 30th of the month.

And during last month, says the Audit Bureau of Circulation, its average sale in Scotland was down to 32,936, representing a fall of some 21 per cent on 12 months' previously, when the average for February 2010 stood at 41,796.

While attractively designed, the lack of separate sections has irked some readers previously used to sharing the paper at the same time, say on a Sunday morning, around the breakfast table. 

Much better-quality newsprint – despite newsprint prices rising markedly, recently – appears not to have been a sufficient sop to readers. Nor, it appears, have some in-depth features, spread over a number of pages. With some sections reduced in size, the new look has been criticised by some of being the old paper, but less of it – not least with the abandonment of the seven-day TV listings service.

A statement from the Sunday Herald's publishers, the Herald & Times Group, reads: “The format change we made to the Sunday Herald in January has been well received by readers and advertisers and we are pleased to confirm that the title is not losing money despite intensive counter-marketing and cover price cutting by other newspapers, which undoubtedly affected our circulation in February.

“Sunday Herald editor, Richard Walker, will also be taking on board the feedback we have received from readers and incorporating a number of their ideas as the title evolves.”

Walker told “It of course pains me that so many readers appear to have been lost, no editor wants to lose readers. But the new Sunday Herald is a very different product and it seems to have polarised opinions. I have had many, many positive comments about the news magazine format. However, it can't be denied that some readers don't like it. Of those complaints we have received, the vast majority focus on the lack of sections and about the fact they can no longer share the paper with partners and family. It's not that they don't like the content, but they don't like the one-section concept. On the other hand, those that do like the concept are incredibly enthusiastic about it.

“It seems to have become something that you either love or hate. Of course, I am hoping that there are people out there who have yet to try the new look and when they do will love it. I am convinced the idea of a news magazine can succeed.”

Fewer pages has resulted in lower production costs, even with the improved quality of the newsprint.

Adds Walker: “Financially, the Sunday Herald is now on a much sounder footing, which was after all the spur which encouraged us to re-imagine the newspaper. It is not losing money. Response from our advertisers has been very encouraging. They – and many readers – are very enthusiastic about the enhanced newsprint and improved production values, and, of course, the quality of the journalism.

“I don’t want to give the impression that I am complacent at the drop in circulation. I am very unhappy that we have lost readers and I want to get them back.

“But this is a different product, it’s not like anything else in the marketplace. We want to be different. We want to offer readers a package which is unlike anything else on the newsstands. The figures are not good but they are very far from the deathknell for the newspaper. It's still early days and we are certainly listening to our readers and looking at what we can and should do in response to their comments. We have already tweaked some aspects of the content and design and I'm sure we'll continue to do so over the coming weeks.

“I am very pleased with a number of stories we have had since we relaunched, some have really set the news agenda for the following week.”

The paper's lack of sections was seized upon last week by its rival, Scotland on Sunday, which was being promoted comprising 'six great sections' and which happened also to cut its price in the West of Scotland, from £1.70 to a £1.

Added Walker: “There's nothing wrong with healthy competition. Scotland on Sunday makes us try harder and makes us a better newspaper. It is a competitor I respect. Equally, the Sunday Herald makes SoS a better paper. But there's a difference between healthy competition and trying to drive a competitor out of business. I detect a bit of a 'fight to the death' attitude from some in the SoS camp. I don't really understand that. You can be competitors without being deadly enemies.

“Over the past five or six years, I thought we had pulled back from the really bitter rivalry which marked the relationship between the two papers in the very early days.

“The important thing, surely, is that indigenous Scottish journalism can survive and flourish. It's vital that happens otherwise there is a real risk that important Scottish stories will not get the coverage and the prominence that they deserve and that would have a real impact on the country. Of course I want to sell more papers than Scotland on Sunday and of course they want to sell more papers than we do. That's entirely right and natural. But I don't want to see Scottish journalism wounded and reduced as the two main Scottish quality Sundays spend so much time and energy tearing themselves apart that the London-based titles can make even more successful inroads into the Scottish market.”

More ABCs to follow…