Scottish Print Media Failure

Why have Scottish titled publications fallen far further in circulation than counterparts in the UK and Europe in the 21st century?

The decline of the Scottish print media has been chartered over years but recent figures mark out just how stark this is. Publicly available figures show that percentage falls in Scotland and the UK are far higher on an annual average than other European titles. In a political environment of greater Scottish awareness shouldn’t it be the case that uniquely titled Scottish papers would benefit from such an environment? They haven’t; quite the opposite.

It’s also clear that the UK media is invariably found to be the least trusted in Europe by it’s domestic audience and, worse, Mark Diffley research found that the print media is particularly distrusted in Scotland.
Further note; the Herald de-registered with ABC in 2018 – hence 2017 figures – and the Scotsman only sells 5,007 paid single copies. 5,009 are paid subscription – and as this report from 2016 shows they used to sell a lot of bulks – free copies in hotels and at airports – but only do five now. Have they moved bulks to subscription by asking hotels and airports to purchase them that way?

The collapse in print media sales is not something to relish. It is a phenomenon that leaves a hole in democratic society. Employees of these titles will explain that these losses are compensated by a conversion to online sales but the reduction in staff at the Herald and Scotsman tells its own story.







Comments (35)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    Crumbs, it’s years since I’ve read a physical newspaper. The only print media I get now is the local Green Party newsletter.

  2. Gordon says:

    Are there any figures available for online readers for the Scotsman etc?
    Had a discussion with a relative who said that the online reader numbers made up for the lack of physical copies sold but he didn’t have the figures.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Yes, I suspect that people are nowadays tending to get their information more via digital media than via print media and analogue media more generally, which has at least the potential to render that information more democratic and less authoritative, which in turn is a good thing.

  3. Lordmac says:

    Looks like they they are terrified to report the real story’s in Scotland , and the people all know the reasons why they support lies simply tell the truth shame the devil as they say here in the west.

    1. Margaret Fox Knight says:

      Well said, I couldn’t agree more!

  4. Peter Johnston says:

    You mention subscriptions as a contribution to the readership, a large proportion of these subscriptions will be agency and overseas readers. This would make subscriptions ineffective as a news media in Scotland.

  5. iain wares says:

    ”Employees of these titles will explain that these losses are compensated by a conversion to online sales”
    In the case of the Scotsman, that is the total of subscribers online and paper copies according to Prass ABCs last certificate.
    Many other titles have unsubscribed and no longer publish circulation via ABC, safe to say their overall circulations aren’t rising though.

  6. Jon says:

    Interesting but there needs to be more analysis of the different populations involved – perhaps Scotland was buying disproportionally more papers than the rest of the UK and there has been a correction to that.

  7. Isla Browning says:

    A few days ago I bought a copy of the Edinburgh Evening News as I was interested in the headline about Covid affecting local schools. It was the first time I had bought a printed paper for a long time. It was relaxing reading it without having to click a mouse! I discovered there was a quick crossword (not too easy and not too difficult!) and I remembered my Granny sitting doing the crossword in the Dundee Courier each day. TV programs are listed so no need to fiddle around on a computer. There are adverts for local tradespeople. No annoying adverts popping up to distract. Light reading I must admit but both local and international snippets were covered. So I bought it again the next day!

  8. David B says:

    Worth saying that the Press & Journal is holding up relatively well – circulation more than the Herald and Scotsman combined apparently.

    I wonder what it says that both the Record and Mirror seem to have dropped more dramatically than the Sun?

  9. BSA says:

    I have subscribed to the Irish Times since 2016 following the Brexit vote. The British, through their media, were negotiating with themselves about fundamental issues which the Europeans regarded as non negotiable and the Irish Times, although pretty conservative, provided a much more lucid, balanced and relevant coverage, cutting out all the noise. It also has Fintan O’Toole. I’ll continue to subscribe for the same reasons. I also read the free Guardian purely for two or three of its columnists but at bottom it’s a British Nationalist rag whose only interest in Scotland is 50 or so tame Labour MPs and I would never pay for its downright offensive writing on Scotland. None of this is a happy situation and I wish it were different but that’s where we are unfortunately. As for the Scottish titles…..

    1. David Bell says:

      That is exactly the same as me. I sub to IT, principally to get Fintans paywalled stuff. I read the Guardian online but refuse to sub in principle because its yoon, but like Marina Hyde, John Crace, Stewart Lee and several others of the regular writers. In addition I regularly read from several English language European and American online sites, and listen to podcasts from several sites, particularly Irish and American, but not exclusively. I feel I am as well informed as at any time in my life, but that on the odd time I listen to the radio in the UK, they are describing a different country to the one I know and live in.

      1. Niemand says:

        Or they [UK radio] are offering a perspective you don’t want to hear / agree with?

        We do have far more outlets to investigate these days but we do so often simply sift round voices that tell us what we want to hear, then we dismiss the rest as ‘lies’. Having a greater number of sources does not necessarily mean we are better informed. What I notice is that those varied voices are all riffing the same themes and all biased in the same ways as always.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Yes, it would be interesting to study the criteria by which people select the content they choose to consume from among the vast range that’s available to us. I suspect that most us choose to consume the content that confirms rather than challenges our prejudices and that affiliates us each to tribes of kindred spirits rather than to ‘others’.

          Maybe some media student could make a research project of this suspicion to test it as a hypothesis; maybe someone already has. If so, it might be worth searching out any content they’ve produced as an outcome of that research.

  10. R Wilson says:

    I have no doubt that being able to access on line I’d a big factor. However, one of the main issues HAS to be the constitution. The media is meant to reflect society yet we have a single daily newspaper which supports the constitutional position of around half the country.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      I’m not sure that the media are meant to reflect anything. They are the main means of mass communication; the tools used to store and deliver information to mass audiences; the components of the communications industry. The information communicated will be shaped by who owns and controls those means and guided more or less (depending on how free the market is) by audience demand. The huge increase in the amount and diversity of the information being delivered and consumed through the media in the past 20 years is directly attributable to the innovation of digital technology, which has all but universalised the ownership of the means of communication. Thanks to the commercial development of digital technology, everyman and his dog can now have a channel through which to freely communicate their information.

      1. Niemand says:

        I think the BBC would say it should reflect society though. Ironically I think that is one of the main reasons why it tends to be slated from all sides, because it actually does at least try to do it, hence it is bound to anger everyone at some point.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          Indeed, that it’s slated by every side for reflecting the other side’s opinion I’ve always taken as a sign that it’s doing something right.

        2. Mr SIMON TAYLOR says:

          Your having a laugh ?
          The BBC is the UK state broadcaster. It’s funding is allocated by the UK government who appoints the majority of its board members.
          Research from , amongst others , Caledonia University, clearly pointed to a bias in representation of Unionist leaning politicians and pundits in the BBCs output particularly its coverage of the 2014 referendum and panel discussions such as Question Time. There is also suspicion as to the impartiality of and selection of audience members for QT particularly over the last 12 – 18 months. The BBC cannot be impartial as it’s primary source of income is the UK government. Neither is it reflective of Scottish opinion in its news and current affairs output. The BBC is exceptionalist and derives its sense of entitlement from an historic, and no longer valid, sense of impartiality and public duty

          1. Mons Meg says:

            Thank goodness we don’t have a Scottish state broadcaster, then, given that it’s impossible for state broadcasters to be impartial.

            BTW: do you have a link to the research to which you refer? It would be interesting to check it.

          2. Mark Bevis says:

            Mons Meg said:
            “BTW: do you have a link to the research to which you refer? It would be interesting to check it.”

            Here’s a couple

            There are at least 4 academic studies that show BBC bias towards the establishment (whichever party is in power). Afterall, why wouldn’t they stroke the hand that feeds it?
            The bias was strong during the anti-fracking campaign particularly. One American journalist describes how setting up a radio interview with a BBC station, the questions discussed beforehand so he could prepare – within a train journey all the questions had all been changed on arrival towards a strong pro-fracking and anti-protester slant – the presenter had obviously been nobbled.
            My disdain for the BBC goes back to the wheelchair bound Palestinian protester who was assaulted by the London police at the student protests (was it 2011?) and dragged out of his wheelchair. He bravely appeared on the BBC TV next day and the bastard presenter constantly accused him of throwing missiles and other crap – he can’t use his arms. Despite 38,000 written complaints afterwards the presenter was not sacked or charged. I’ve not followed the BBC ever since.

          3. Niemand says:

            It is not without its biases. It is the ‘B’BC so being unionist at heart is a given and nationalists can never get beyond that, which is a mistake. The BBC is beholden to the establishment to keep its funding stream going so undoubtedly represents that establishment to some extent. It is partly cuckolded. But it also regularly investigates and holds that establishment to account, including itself.

            I regularly switch between media sources often with the same story and there is no doubt in my mind the BBC’s output is the most balanced in general and more to the point, it is clearly trying to be, even where it falls down in that. Most others sources never even try to offer balance (like this site for example) and that is fine as long as it is understood. That also makes the BBC somewhat more boring in a way and it can lack the detail of other sources.

            Those who think the BBC hopelessly biased are simply that themselves.

          4. Mons Meg says:

            The BBC isn’t so much beholden to the establishment; it’s part of the establishment and so represents, to a greater or lesser degree, the establishment view. That’s its bias.

            You can’t escape bias; there’s no such thing and the view from nowhere. Every view is someone’s view. The demand for impartiality is absurd. All we can do is play as many of the partial views off against each other as we can.

          5. Niemand says:

            Yes you are right it is part of the establishment rather than beholden to it. I still would argue it aims for impartiality though. There might be other outlets that do too but those who complain about BBC bias often seem to want it to be more biased to their point of view, which is illogical. When it comes to the fight for independence of course it will side with the establishment which is unionist, so it is easy see why it is hated but being more neutral on that question (though I broadly support independence), I don’t think it as in your face unionist as people make out, they just focus solely on when it more obviously is, which is by no means all or arguably, even most of the time.

            The print media thing is more akin to the general print media situation across the UK which is, and has been for years, centre right and right and we are not served that well there. Even The Guardian is only centre left and more fussed about progressive cultural issues than left wing politics these days; the Mirror manages to be a bit more radical, which says it all really.

          6. I think you are broadly right in this analysis Niemand. The BBCs bias is structural, implicit.

            I don’t want the BBC to be more biased to my opinion I want a better public broadcaster. I don’t believe that likely or possible within the current constitutional arrangement.

            We need (imho) to support the emergent alternative media with a bit more tenacity. I would say that wouldn’t I?

            I understand that projects/sites like BC and others need to improve and expand but we also need public support to do so. Chicken/egg.

          7. Niemand says:

            Very fair comment Mike.

            Despite my obvious skeptical nature I do like BC a lot due to its breadth of coverage and yes, its ‘alternative’ viewpoint. I genuinely like to read stuff that is not simply more of what I think anyway. True, there could be further different perspectives here but I have learned a lot since I started visiting this site and it is partly responsible for me shifting my perspective on independence from hostile to approving, so more power to your elbow.

          8. Mons Meg says:

            ‘We need (imho) to support the emergent alternative media with a bit more tenacity.’

            Indeed! The more alternative voices, the better. And the greater democratisation of the media that digital technology has enabled, whereby Everyman and his dog can have their own channel, gives us this wonderful atonal polyphony or ‘Dostoyevskian debris’ of alternative and conflicting voices out of which we can each make up our own mind.

  11. Lordmac says:

    That’s like saying if I was chocolate I would love to eat my self bias and paranoia is both in your head here, bias can be proven , paranoia can’t. As it is also hear say

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Punctuation helps.

  12. Ian Main says:

    The fact that the press are divided into Scotland and England with the anti nationalism in Scotland to the fore.

  13. BLMac says:

    “The collapse in print media sales is not something to relish”

    Yes it is when the print media are feeding you govt propaganda and have a strong bias against the working class.

    I was a regular consumer of newsprint but when you are getting fed so many lies, why pay for it?

    I don’t mind editorial bias in opinion columns, but that should be separate from the actual reporting.

  14. Mik Johnstone says:

    If newspapers printed the actual truth rather that looking for scapegoats and blindly printing stories from unknown sources then people may buy newspapers until then the downward trend is inevitable.
    Ignoring the real stories right in front of their faces is comical if not ignorant to the reality we face daily.
    I don’t think it can solely be blamed on people moving to digital copies… people don’t want spoon-fed lies they want the actual truth … we have the most untrustworthy media in Europe

  15. J Galt says:

    Like BLMac I’m relishing it all-right!

    How these things even cover the cost of their physical distribution is beyond me. Either it’s an indicator of how low the costs now are due to continuous lowering of wages and conditions or they’re being subsidised as loss making propaganda tools.

    1. Mons Meg says:

      ‘How these things even cover the cost of their physical distribution is beyond me.’

      It seems to be because, for newspaper circulation, costs have decreased and revenues have increased. According to, subscriptions have risen from 42% to 56% of total newspaper readers, and subscription readership (selling directly to the customer) is and always has been much more profitable than casual readership (selling indirectly through newsagents/supermarkets). Digital technology has also made the business of assembling, printing, and distributing newspapers much less expensive.

      Don’t worry! If no one was making a profit from circulating newspapers, it wouldn’t happen.

  16. Fehvepehs says:

    I don’t have any answers as to why the Scottish press seems to be performing worse than other nations’ print.
    What I can say is that the titles that used to be printed are a lot, lot less than in the past and I expect this trend to continue.
    People of my age (66) invariably bought a newspaper every day and quite often two. In my case it was the Dundee Courier and the Daily Mirror.
    I have not bought a newspaper in well over a decade. Most of my friends are similarly situated.
    For my sins, I started off my working life in 1971 as an apprentice compositor in D C Thomson. The newspaper titles they printed which have disappeared since then are too many to count. The weeklies were first to go. The Peoples’ Journals with runs for Fife, Angus, Aberdeen, Argyll and the Isles. I may have missed a few. Even the big selling Weekly News stopped production last year. The magazines and comics which used to be printed by D C Thomson have lost many titles due to falling readership. Regional newspaper titles are also disappearing or being amalgamated, so local news from Brechin appears in, say Montrose weekly. For what it’s worth, the demise of printed media, in my opinion, will continue, much in the same way as music being purchased. The rise of streaming has changed the way people listen to music, however I don’t think that online subscriptions will be as successful for daily newspapers.

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