THE TIMES SCOTLAND NOW OUTSELLS THE SCOTSMAN

JOHN McGURK

The latest circulation sales figures for national newspapers have confirmed what is a watershed moment for the beleaguered Scottish press — the further demise of The Scotsman which is now outsold north of the border by The Times.

According to the industry’s latest audit for March, the headline figure for The Times Scotland is 24,398 which is 1,658 copies ahead of the latest figure for The Scotsman at 22,740.

The news isn’t much better for The Herald in Glasgow since its last audited figure of 32,141 was announced in January.

The March figure for the Daily Mail’s Scottish edition is 85,996 which means it outsells The Herald and The Scotsman combined by 31,385 copies.

It’s also a bleak outlook for the once-mighty Daily Record which at 167,547 sales in Scotland is now 55,096 behind the Scottish edition of the Sun which sells 222,643.

But it is the fate of The Scotsman, once a quality flagship respected nationally and internationally, which is most worrying for those who believe that indigenous Scottish newspapers should be vital during a time of huge economic and political change.

Let’s think about this for a moment: Scottish readers prefer newspapers whose editorial hierarchy and top management control is in London.

And they are newspapers which have clear right-wing unionist agendas and views deliberately softened, and even reversed, when they clash with opinion in Scotland.

Although the Sun in Scotland flirts with the SNP, The Times, and particularly the Daily Mail, are hardly supporters of Scottish independence — yet more folk up here now buy them against our home-grown titles.

Neither can it be concluded that it is the internet and social media which has been killing Scotland’s traditional papers.

If The Times, Daily Mail and the Sun can increase their presence, or continue to thrive in Scotland, then why can’t The Scotsman, The Herald or Daily Record?

Here are four main reasons:

CHOICE

There is no other country in the world which offers such a wide choice of daily newspapers.

Including the Scottish regional papers the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the Dundee Courier (which both sell more than The Scotsman and The Herald) there are 18 titles available while the daily Metro is free on buses and trains.

Frankly, the invasion of London newspapers in the mid-1990s has been a disaster for Scotland’s home-grown national titles.

PRICE

Amazingly, as circulations of Scottish indigenous newspapers have plummeted, their cover prices have increased.

For example: The Scotsman costs £1.50 weekdays and £1.95 on Saturdays while the same prices for The Times Scotland are £1.20 and £1.50.

The Daily Record costs 65p and 90p on Saturdays compared to the Sun’s 50p and 70p.

The Herald is £1.30 and £1.70 on Saturdays while the Daily Mail is 65p and 90p.

The reason is because managements of Scotland’s indigenous newspapers have deliberately jacked up their prices to offset lost revenues from falling circulations.

This may have saved their profits in the short term but it’s been a recipe for disaster in the long-term.

CONTENT

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Scottish editions of The Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail are more enjoyable and more substantial with much better news and features coverage which readers find interesting.

In the case of The Times, essential Scottish news, sport, business and comment are supported by a very credible national and international  agenda.

Arguably, the Daily Mail serves up the most comprehensive feature pages in the business while the irreverence and humour of the Sun is hard to beat.

By comparison, the Daily Record is a shadow of its previous self and widely regarded as out of tune with Scottish politics because of its continuing support for the Labour party.

The Scotsman suffers from the same illness while its news coverage appears to depend on the previous night’s TV bulletins. Then there’s the paper’s platform for organisations, known as “friends”, which allows them to peddle deadly dull propaganda in return for buying subscriptions.

MANAGEMENT

As sales fell away and advertising revenues suffered, the short-sighted managements of The Scotsman, The Herald and Daily Record insisted on cutting jobs and resources while reducing pages and shutting down sections.

Neither have they invested enough in their websites although they all believe the future is digital. They have preferred to blame the BBC whose websites they regard as unfair competition.

Now there’s a plan for the BBC to pay for regional newspaper reporters out of the licence fee to improve the coverage of local councils and courts and to share other content.

Johnston Press, who have owned The Scotsman for the past 10 years, have led the way in reducing it from a national daily to the standards of a local weekly.

Recently they announced that Scotland on Sunday, UK Sunday newspaper of the year in 1997, 1998 and 2000, is “sub-core” and therefore not a title they care about.

Newsquest, the owners of The Herald, have at least attempted to develop their Scottish papers by launching The National in the aftermath of the independence referendum but, to be honest, their record on job and editorial budget cuts is not much better.

It is now clear that Scotland’s indigenous newspapers have been out-smarted, out-gunned and out-priced by newspapers masterminded in a country from which more than 50% of Scots want no part of.

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

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