The so-called ‘weekly’ newspapers are a vital element of the newspaper industry. I say ‘so-called’ because definitions are difficult. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA) definition is the difference between a ‘daily’ and a ‘non-daily’ and World Press Trends’ definition of a daily is over four issues a week. A non-daily is three or fewer. In Scotland, many ‘weeklies’ in fact publish twice a week.
And what of The Economist and TIME? Surely they are weekly newspapers? But no, they are defined as magazines because they are A4, despite the fact that so is 20 Minutes, a free daily in Europe, and Krone Zeitung, the oldest and largest newspaper in Austria.
Then there are shoppers’ entertainment publications. It is hard even to define what is news. So definitions are difficult, and so, therefore, is analysis. But here goes.
According to World Press Trends, overall globally the number of weekly newspapers has been relatively stable over the last five years with some growth in the number of titles in the last two years.
By far the largest reported market in the world for weeklies is Russia, which accounts for nearly half of all titles, reported at 27 000.
Globally when it comes to circulation, sales are declining, by around 13% over the last five years.
It is difficult to ascertain the ratio of paid to free copies, but it would appear that the split is likely to be around 75% free, 25% paid, though this figure from World Press Trends is not reliable. This figure includes China, where an estimated 90% of copies are paid for. So, without China, the split is 22%.
In South Africa, the data supplied to World Press Trends suggests that around 70% of titles and 80% of copies distributed are free, but it must be emphasised that these figures are based on South African source definitions.
Overall the number of paid titles fluctuates between 100 and 72 and currently sits at 86. The number of free titles has continued to grow by 26% over the last five years.
However, circulation of paid-for titles, having enjoyed growth up to 2011 saw a decline of 13% in 2012. To put this in context, daily circulations have decline by 21% in the last five years.
As for the upcoming trends, there are several that seem clear to me:
Print circulations in mature markets are in decline, as the internet competes with other lifestyle factors to drag society’s interest away from news and current affairs.
Generally smaller publications are fairing better than larger titles.
Papers are getting smaller, not just in circulation but in format and pagination. I can see a time when pocket papers will exist in A5, perhaps even smaller, quick reads.
One of the reasons we are facing the difficulties we are is because publishers abandoned their high visibility print brands to invest in unfocused digital strategies. Weekly papers can have as high a public visibility as dailies.
As digital picks up so publishers are choosing to reduce purchase frequency. There is nothing wrong with this. My work with clients suggests that not only can publishers increase profitability, but that the shift from daily to weekly publication can energise readership, and drive them to web on a daily basis. The key is customer interaction, knowledge and participation. Better to publish once a week and be seen on the streets by your community than to disappear into a crowded virtual world. n
Jim Chisholm is a France-based newspaper and media industry consultant. See jimchisholm.net
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