Newspapers more alive than people may think

Reach’s LesleyAnn Diffin on how the group’s news brands fared during the pandemic…

It is no longer mandatory for national newspapers in Ireland to report their circulation figures publicly, following an update to the longstanding ABC audit system. The ABC board made the call to address “publisher concerns that monthly ABC circulation reports provide a stimulus to write a negative narrative of circulation decline.”

The ABC announcement comes as no surprise as circulation has become the most talked-about press measurement since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not to mention that we live in a multi-platform age and there are publishing touch points that are not covered in ABC reporting, such as subscriptions, app readers and online audiences.

The focus on just printed copies as circulation is not a fair reflection of how a title is doing.

Addressing the challenges of ABC data has been on the cards for some time. Whether you’re in the ‘to publish’ or ‘not to publish’ camp, the ABC move can only be positive. We get to keep the industry currency that stakeholders continue to need but ensures the focus isn’t on printed circulation data alone, but instead provides an opportunity to share data that reflects a more holistic view in line with today’s news consumption habits.


Print will always be an important and precious way of distributing our editorial to readers. It is one of the most brand safe environments for advertisers and that’s why we’ll always protect it. Reach is among the majority of publishers that will continue to make our figures public. There is no point in beating about the bush: Covid-19 has hit print circulation and advertising sales across the entire newspaper industry: our publishing group is no different.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

In Ireland, Reach publishes seven print titles – the NI and Irish editions of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, NI and Irish editions of the Sunday People and RSVP magazine – along with five websites.  As we entered weeks 12 and 11 of lockdown, we never imagined we’d be in a position to actually offset the “narrative of decline” around print circulation.

For weeks now, the focus has tended to be on declining print circulation and rising online audiences – and, of course, you’re thinking ‘it’s a no-brainer’ – we’re in a new working from home reality where people are not commuting every day when buying a paper would have been part of the routine. Parts of our high streets remain shut and, for two months, the UK and Irish governments kept people at home. But closer scrutiny showed surprising results.

The immediate week after lockdowns in both parts of Ireland, which were one week apart, we saw the lowest decline in sales in both the daily and Sunday markets. The Irish Mirror was down 1.7 per cent week on week after the first full week of lockdown but then increased the following week to 2.7 per cent – in fact, our highest sale since the lockdown.

Also, the same day the white van man returned to work in the Republic (week eight), our sales increased by 1.5 per cent. Our interpretation of this – the initial panic and ‘stay at home’ mentality, within 7 days, shifted to ‘how best to keep informed, what news sources can be trusted to deliver impartial, reliable context on coronavirus and other news’?

What happened next? Consumers turned to newspapers.


In NI, Daily Mirror sales were hit harder with a 14 per cent decrease after the first week of lockdown, faring better in week two but still down three per cent week-on-week. It wasn’t until the third week when we noticed an increase in sales, up by two points. Skip forward to week 11 and we had the highest average sale of the NI edition since lockdown began – up seven per cent on the Saturday edition alone – helped by the return of horse racing.

Then, on the other hand, the Sunday market has seen different trends entirely.

Ever since ‘stay at home’, it seems people are buying more than one newspaper at the weekends now to fill their free time. The old traditional Sunday newspaper market has seen a resurgence. Take the Irish Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, for example, they’re showing an increase of five per cent and one per cent respectively in May against the previous month.

After the initial dip, we noticed a gradual recovery much sooner than even we envisaged ourselves with our papers operating at 82 per cent and 92 per cent of pre-coronavirus sales in NI and ROI respectively by the start of May – further proving the resilience of print.


We know the fall out could have been much worse as there had been no sport to report on – a key content pillar for red tops – and minus other major drivers such as the Grand National, Punchestown and Belfast Marathon for which the Daily Mirror is the media partner.

Reach circulation manager Alan Kelly said the fact the group managed to protect sales despite the absence of the Mirror’s ever-reliable sport reader base tells us that readership habits have changed.  Circulation trends during coronavirus not only tell us readers rely on our coverage more than ever but also that there are new and different buyers than before.

We need to ensure the multi-platform news industry is measured as a total audience. Looking at Reach’s circulation trends during the pandemic proves that people rely on newspapers. What the ABC said isn’t about suppressing what we know is strong data during Covid-19 but about changing the headline that print is dead to it’s more alive than people think.

LesleyAnn Diffin is business communications manager at Reach




Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy