The recently published ABC audit figures for Ireland's newspaper industry show a dramatic decline in the circulation of almost all 'paid for' newspapers, both local and national, with one Westmeath newspaper losing almost a fifth of its circulation in just one year.
The latest figures also herald the first independent verification of the door-to-door circulation of the Mullingar Advertiser at just under 6,000 copies, which, combined with the bulk circulation, confirms that the Mullingar Advertiser is now the largest circulating local paper in the town.
This figure, combined with its sister-paper, the Athlone Advertiser, also confirms that the Advertiser newspapers in the midlands have a higher circulation than any local 'paid for' paper in the country. This is great news for all businesses who wish to advertise in the Advertiser, as all adverts appear in both publications giving an unrivaled reach to those businesses who advertise in them.
In what has been a continuous trend for a number of years, the fall off in sales for 'paid for' papers has set alarm bells ringing for those papers for which the public must pay.
This contrasts sharply with the increasing popularity of the free titles, such as the Athlone and Mullingar Advertiser, and its sister papers in Mayo, Galway, and Kilkenny.
Out of a total of 40 individual local 'paid for' papers which reported figures for December 2009, and for which year-on-year comparisons can be made, 38 showed a decline in circulation.
Locally, the Westmeath Examiner showed the most dramatic fall in circulation, of 18 per cent from over 8,500 copies per week to just 7,000 copies per week. In fact, this figure fell to just 6,500 in December.
The Westmeath Independent does not provide independently audited figures at all — a sign considered as ominous by industry insiders. These two Scottish-owned publications are now considered to be worth a fraction of the sums paid for them by the Celtic Media Group six years ago.
In recent months, paid-for newspapers and their representative groups which are threatened by the massive decline in sales, advertising, and readership have been urged to attack the concept of free newspapers, but their petty arguments have been flatly rejected by the public who feel reluctant to spend several hundred euro a year to buy local paid-for newspapers, when most of the content is available in free media such as newspapers and radio.
Inaccurate reports on the distribution status of the Mullingar Advertiser and its parent company were carried in both the Westmeath Examiner and Westmeath Independent this week. The reports together suggested that the Mullingar Advertiser did not have ABC verification, which it does, and that its parent company had closed down a newspaper, which in fact it never owned, and which is owned by a diferent company altogether.
When contacted by the Advertiser, the editors of both newspapers admitted that the stories were erroneous and they have offered to carry clarifications in next week’s issues.
Industry sources have identified the popularity of papers such as the Athlone and Mullingar Advertiser as one of the main reasons for the decline.
Declining circulations for local 'paid for' newspapers, in tandem with a significant decrease in advertising revenue, have led some to speculate that the future of the local media will rest exclusively with the free paper model.
In recognition of this, the London Evening Standard has recently accepted the inevitable, and after existing as a 'paid for' evening paper since 1859, became a free paper at the end of 2009. More locally, the free paper model was adopted by the Offaly Independent in late 2008.
Commenting on the most recent figures, Peter Timmins, Managing Director of the Advertiser Newspaper Group, said 2009 had been a difficult year throughout all advertising media, but the Advertiser model was now accepted as the future face of the local newspaper industry.
“Many consumers of the local press are now able to access content free of charge on the web, and are increasingly asking why they should pay for this in any form. The arrival of the present recession also has people questioning the value they get for every euro they spend. We are confident that the Advertiser will continue to meet the demands of the midland's business community and satisfy the requirements of our vast readership.”
All businesses are facing challenging times, and we are determined to play our role in helping to promote businesses in their local areas and further afield.
“Our job here at the Advertiser is to ensure that businesses who advertise with us get their message to the largest number of people in the most cost effective manner. We guarantee this with our huge circulation, of over 24,000 papers delivered every Friday, directly targeting the market businesses wish to speak to,” Mr Timmins said. “We will also be announcing some exciting new developments for the Athlone and Mullingar Advertisers in the coming weeks,” Mr Timmins added.