Cutting free copies of regional newspapers boosts sales, latest ABC figures show

Despite the sales success for stores and publishers, the strategy of cutting free copies was rare, with most maintaining or upping free distribution

Bundle of newspapers Newsquest BBC documentary

Publishers that cut distribution of free copies of regional newspapers saw increases in sales in stores, the latest ABC circulation figures show. 

Analysis by betterRetailing revealed while a majority of titles saw falls in newsstand sales from 2021 to 2022, a handful of titles achieved like-for-like copy-sales growth, all of which had cut the number of free copies given out. 

The Royston Crow increased sales by 74% and cut free copies by 6%, the Hunts Post grew sales by 7% while removing 40% of free copies, and the merged Stevenage Comet achieved like-for-like sales 23% higher amid a 29% cut to free copies. 

All three titles were owned by Archant prior to its acquisition by Newsquest in March 2022. 

Jignesh Patel, whose The Ickleford Stores stock the Stevenage Comet and Hitchin Comet, said he had noticed an increase in customers looking for the titles since the free distribution was cut down. 

“It’s very popular for a local paper,” he said. “In one of my stores, we sell 15 or 16 a week. We have people coming in looking for it all the time.” 

Store manager Mithila Athiyaman told betterRetailing that, while her Premier shop in Huntingdon hasn’t noticed a particular increase in sales of the Hunts Post, they find customers buying the title are consistent. “The same people buy it regularly. We have occasional new customers, and very rarely lose them,” she said. 

A source at Newsquest told betterRetailing they do distribute free copies to supermarkets, but the majority go to leisure centres, receptions and other services. 

Their paid copies are distributed through normal retail channels to newsstands. 

betterRetailing’s analysis showed that all of the Archant titles for which Newsquest reduced the number of free copies, including the Exmouth Journal and Brent and Kilburn Times, saw sales fall by less than 20%. 

This compares with declines of 20%-30% of the majority of other titles. 

Despite the sales success for stores and publishers, the strategy of cutting free copies was rare, with most maintaining or upping free distribution – a strategy used to prop up advertising revenue. 

Six titles lost more than a third of paid-copy sales: Reach Regionals Limited’s North Wales Weekly News; Newsquest’s Docklands & East London Advertiser and Ilford Recorder; National World’s Glenrothes Gazette, Londonderry Sentinel, and Daventry Express; and Media Scotland Ltd’s Irvine Herald and Kilwinning Chronicle. 

Irvine Herald and Kilwinning Chronicle was the worst hit, with a 58% drop in sales since 2021. 

Read more news and advice about the newspaper and magazines category and click here for the latest ABC circulation figures


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