War Sells Serious Newspapers Analysis

Article excerpt

THE NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began only a week before the end of March, so it is still too early to say what the true impact of the conflict has been on newspaper sales.

Nevertheless some trends are emerging. The broadsheet dailies have had a better month than the popular market, while in the Sunday market only The Independent on Sunday and the News of the World managed to increase sales compared with February.

When Diana, Princess of Wales died, quality newspapers did better than tabloids, and some pundits believed that this phenomenon was owed to a rejection of the popular press by the public because of the manner of Diana's death. However, others saw it as a natural trading up by newspaper readers at the time of a big event - they simply wanted more information and a different type of news presentation. Early indications from the Yugoslavia conflict may show this happening again. The BBC's news is attracting bigger ratings than ITV, so to make a crude comparison, broadsheets may also benefit. This effect will be exaggerated if a ground war begins and Nato forces start to suffer casualties. Many readers will not want their serious war coverage sharing pages with the latest soap star's love life. As the conflict has progressed there has been a blurring of newspapers' editorial lines on the rights and wrongs of Nato involvement - the refugee crisis has moved the debate on to tactics and the need for ground forces. Although opinion pages were more divided in the first week - the week covered by March's figures - those opinions seem to have had little effect on sales. The Express, which was highly supportive of the Government and Nato, is down month on month by 0.5 per cent whereas the Daily Mail, which has been much more critical, continued its relentless rise, up 0.67 per cent. But forces other than the war affected March's figures. The Independent won a series of industry awards which it promoted in an advertising campaign, both of which contributed to the largest month- on-month and year-on-year increase in sales in the broadsheet market. Indeed only The Sun registered better growth in March and The Independent is up 4 per cent on last year - giving the paper its largest market share since November 1997. Neither the war, nor a books for schools promotion, seems to have stemmed The Times's long-term decline. The Thunderer fell more in March than any daily paper with the exception of the ailing Daily Star. In January 1998 it was selling 95,000 more copies a day than the 746,403 it is selling now. …