Press Readership Declines Despite Hopes For Digital Extensions

The lack of fanfare surrounding the latest Joint National Readership Survey (JNRS) was potentially more interesting than some of the findings. The printed press community find themselves in a concerning situation, where even for the winners there really was not much to shout about.

JNRS reports on press readership, not audited circulation figures. This is where the two sources have shown conflict in recent years, while online has been added into recent JNRS, the findings still paint a very different picture to that of the Audited Bureau of Circulations (ABC); ABC has reported category declines, while JNRS shows holding or (in some cases) rising readership.

Total readership down 1.9%

In the period July 2014-June 2015 readership across press (print and online) shows a decline of 1.9%. This is concerning given the hope put behind digital extensions of these publisher brands to retain readers and to start replacing print ad revenues. In the printed press the declines are, unsurprisingly, more dramatic, with dailies down 5% and Sundays down 10%.

Print winners & losers: double digit loss is the biggest concern

Only two daily titles showed year on year print growth, Irish Times and Irish Daily Star, while Sunday Business Post was the only Sunday title.  

All other titles experienced year on year declines in their printed product, with the big hits in both the daily and Sunday markets. Even with a drop of 12% the Irish Independent is still the top daily title with 508,000 readers and a sizeable gap to the next, the Irish Times, who managed to marginally close the gap with a gain of 16,000 readers. The big shift year on year is the third and fourth positions; a 15% fall for the Irish Sun saw the title relinquish its third spot in the daily market to The Irish Daily Star.

In the Sunday market the double digit declines in the printed format is more evident, with six of the seven titles posting declines greater than 10%. Given consumer behaviour globally, we really need to ask if this is an addressable problem.

The Sunday Independent, with 852,000 readers weekly is still delivering more readers than the Irish Mail on Sunday (281,000), Irish Sun on Sunday (230,000), Irish Sunday Mirror (134,000) and Sunday Business Post (109,000) combined.  The dominance of the INM stable delivering more readers per weekday and Sunday than all their competitors combined is both an opportunity and a challenge for adland and publishers alike.

The great digital hope

The shining light of the 2015 JNRS for the titles is in the online space and building on the measurement of online readership, which started in 2013. With online included all titles, bar Sunday Business Post, see growth – just not enough to address the overall readership decline. The main players in this space and the only titles with any real volume to compete with non-press online channels are;

·         Irish Independent holding the no.1 position at 236,000 readers (+62,000/ +26% year on year)

·         The Irish Times at no.2 with at 159,000 readers (+23,000 / 14%)

·         Sunday Independent is third with 112,000 readers (+25,000 / +22%)

The challenge for publishers is to grow the online space faster than the decline of the printed format, and turn these readers into a credible revenue channel. With falling print and disappointing online growth to offset those losses – it will be a difficult trading environment ahead.