Newspapers: Down but Not Out

Andrew Green

Commercial TV did not kill newspapers when it launched in 1955, although perhaps, in time, the internet will. Around 125 million copies of national newspapers were sold or distributed in the UK every week back then. In the first six months of 2004, the number was 29% lower at just over 89 million.

So, in simple terms, newspapers look to be in long-term decline. However, as Oscar Wilde long ago reminded us, 'Truth is rarely pure and never simple'.

First of all, the decline has been relatively recent. Newspaper sales were fairly stable throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. By 1990, 15.3 million copies were distributed daily, compared to 15.8 million in 1955 (this result is skewed by the omission of the Daily Telegraph from ABC figures until 1963 – including the Telegraph, it is likely to have been closer to 16.8 million in 1955, suggesting around a 9% fall in overall daily circulations over the period). But the steepest and most consistent falls have occurred more recently.