Statistics released on Wednesday morning by the National Readership Survey have given many quality news titles in Britain reason to be cheerful. Healthy online audiences are proof that falling print circulation at “broadsheet” publications is a result of reader migration to digital editions, not a lack of interest in the news product itself.
For the first time ever, the NRS has taken into account both online and print audiences in its evaluation of readership numbers for British newspapers and magazines. The results produced by the NRS differ to some extent from those posted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations; the ABC’s data is based on the sales and traffic figures provided by individual publications, while the NRS instead uses statistics collected from a joint Nielsen and UKOM survey of 3,500 people.
With a total monthly audience of 8.95 million for the year to March, The Guardian (including readers of sister publication The Observer) has a larger readership across its online and print editions than any other "quality" UK news title. Analysing the NRS results, The Independent’s Ian Burrell reports that The Guardian’s online audience has enhanced its overall monthly readership by 199 percent, reflecting a wider trend that has seen the Internet increase the quality sectors readership numbers by 49 percent.
Figures for The Daily Telegraph show that more than 50 percent of the title’s total monthly readership of 8.82 million comes from the telegraph.co.uk site and The Independent’s website readers has increased its UK audience numbers by 70 percent.
The Times on the other hand tells a rather different story. Its print edition has the most encouraging readership numbers for any quality UK newspaper. With a print audience alone of 5.52 million readers, it outpaces The Independent’s total readership of 5.32 million but poor online figures mean that the News International title’s combined readership figures come in at 5.74 million a month. 2010 famously saw The Times erect a paywall around its online content and today accessing the title’s website costs £4 a week, a price that only 295,000 readers per month are willing to pay. That said, it is unlikely that News Int. executives are overly concerned by The Times’s inability to challenge its closest competitors in the online market. The heavy losses incurred by The Guardian earlier this year have likely convinced editors at The Times that, from a financial point of view, generating revenue from a reduced reader base is more lucrative than relying on modest digital advertising revenue.
Websites of quality newspapers generally had a higher online readership than tabloids, though the red tops retain a considerable section of print audiences. The Sun is still the nation’s most popular news publication, attracting an impressive 17.8 million print and online readers every month, of which 16.09 million comes from print editions alone. Mid-market title The Daily Mail is hot on The Sun’s heels, after figures show that it has a combined print/online readership of 16.43 million. The MailOnline’s readership outstrips that of any other British news website, thanks to its audience of 6.8 million people every month.
Although the figures posted by the NRS do not automatically translate into revenue for British news publications, they do show that in the tabloid market at least there remains a healthy base of customers willing to pay for a print product, and quality titles can take heart from the amount of traffic their news sites are generating. For the time being, digital advertising revenue has done little to compensate for the loss of print ad revenues, but these total audience figures will no doubt be of interest to advertisers wondering how to best make use of newspaper brands.