Friday 20 February 2009

You are what you read - Newspaper circulation in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has five 'native' daily and Sunday newspapers: the Belfast Telegraph, the Irish News, the Sunday Journal, the Sunday Life, and the News Letter. Like most other things in this divided society, these titles are generally identified with one side or the other. Amongst the three dailies, the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter wear their unionism on their sleeves, while the Irish News is clearly nationalist. The Sunday Life is part of the Belfast Telegraph stable, and the Sunday Journal, though part of the Johnston Press group, has a very clearly nationalist editorial slant. It is generally a Derry local newspaper, though, so is of limited relevance outside that area. In brief, of the five, three are 'unionist' papers, and two are 'nationalist'.

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.


Anonymous said...

Part of the problem for the Protestant community is that they have been told endlessly that they are British - and that in a way that excludes any element of Irishness. I think that this leads to a disengagement from life here in Ireland. No wonder that so many go to University in Britain and stay there. No wonder that so many buy 'national' British newspapers instead of provincial ones. If one is going to be British one might as well go straight to the source.

Anonymous said...

remember the telegraph has two editions aswell in a day.

Anonymous said...

It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it says.

What are the absolute numbers of sales?

The Irish News is the only one for which internet subs are required so maybe that impacts. ( I have to say it is a very poor newspaper - untidy layout and content not great)

I think the BT is largely neutral -but I rarely read the editorial.

Anonymous said...

It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it says.

Just looked at the absolute numbers in report and IN cicrulation is almost twice as big as Newsletter - that is a pretty incredible statistic indicating a major difference between the reading habit of 2 communities living beside each other.

Anonymous said...

And Daily Ireland?

Anonymous said...

Daily Ireland has been gone for a while now. The ABC figures I quoted were for December 2008, and were compared with December 2007. I'm sure DI was included in previous years when it was in business.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I recently came across this post and was wondering if it would be ok for me to email you some questions for my Thesis! The title is Publishing Politics in Northern Ireland and I want to focus on political magazines, news papers etc printed during the troubles!
I would appreciate it if you could contact me if this is something you would be interested in. My email address is
Hope to hear from you soon
Kind regards

Horseman said...


I really cannot claim to be an expert on newspapers etc during the troubles, so I doubt if I'd be of much help to you.