Although many people read two or more papers (especially if they don't have to buy them), and many institutions buy all of the dailies, if people buy only one it is likely to be one that they identify with, and whose editorial position is closest to their own.
The absolute sales figures of the five give the impression of a unionist dominance of the print media in Northern Ireland – the Belfast Telegraph outsells the other papers by a fairly wide margin, clearly sells well even in Catholic areas, and is considered to be a more moderate unionist voice than the News Letter. Perhaps the fact that it is owned by the Dublin-based Independent News and Media group may make it more acceptable across the board. That being said, though, only 87% of its sales are paid for (the rest are given out for free) and its circulation is declining.
The latest circulation figures for all of the newspapers and magazines published in Ireland, released today by ABC, show that sales of almost all Northern Ireland's daily and Sunday newspapers are declining, with the exception of the Irish News.
Over the period December 2007 to December 2008, the circulation figures for the five titles changed as follows;
Belfast Telegraph: -8.1%
Irish News: +0.1%
News Letter: -4.6%
Sunday Life: -6.0%
Sunday Journal: ('NA', though the most recent six months show a decline)
Printed newspapers worldwide are tending to suffer a decline in their sales, so the negative figures above are not too unusual (though for comparison, the Belfast Telegraph's sister paper in the south, the Irish Independent, saw only a 3.9% drop in circulation over the same period).
The slight growth in the circulation of the Irish News during 2008, bucking both local and worldwide trends, could provide an indication of a growth in that newspaper's target market – nationalists – while the above-average declines in the circulations of both unionist daily newspapers could indicate a decline in the numbers of newspaper-buying unionists.
If you are what you read, then newspaper circulation figures in Northern Ireland show that there are more nationalists than a year ago, and fewer unionists.