Page last updated at 23:34 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 00:34 UK

Scottish newspapers 'in crisis'

By John McGurk
Daily Telegraph managing editor and former editor of The Scotsman

Scottish daily newspapers may not survive in the face of competition from London-based titles, a BBC Scotland investigation has revealed.

Scottish newspapers, already struggling with their lowest sales figures ever, are facing another significant threat.

The Daily Mail sells more than the Herald and Scotsman combined

Local authorities are preparing to transfer recruitment advertising to their own council websites at the end of this month.

The Scottish Government plans to follow this lead, despite lobbying from the newspaper industry which currently enjoys public sector advertising revenues of 47m a year.

This is revealed in the latest BBC Radio Scotland Investigation which includes a forecast by Professor Philip Meyer, an American newspaper academic, who suggests that Scotland's major quality newspapers may not survive beyond 2018.

Professor Meyer, whose book, The Vanishing Newspaper, predicts that the last newspaper in America will be published in 2043, said: "If you take the rate of decline and extend it to the zero point, I would say the end of Scottish newspapers as we know them within 10 years, will probably happen unless there are some surprises."

The documentary investigates the plight of Scotland's indigenous press.

Newspaper sales are falling sharply throughout the world but the decline is more precipitate in Scotland where the market is overcrowded with 17 daily papers battling for attention.

I think they're definitely in decline. It's gaining in speed and it could well be as fatal as it was for the shipyards of the Clyde

Andrew Neil
Former publisher, The Scotsman

The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Times have made impressive circulation gains in Scotland with so called "tartan editions" supported by low cover prices and giveaways such as CDs and DVDs.

Today the Sun has overtaken the once-mighty Daily Record as the biggest-selling Scottish daily newspaper, while the Daily Mail sells more every day than The Scotsman and The Herald combined.

Industry figures show that over the past 20 years, the Record has fallen by 48.6%.

The Herald has dropped 46.4% while The Scotsman's sale is down 41.5%.

The Courier in Dundee has lost 41.1% while the Press and Journal remains the best performing Scottish quality daily with a drop of 26.5%.

Latest official sales figures for Scotland show that The Sun sold 399,321 against the Daily Record's 363,411.

The Herald sold 65,286 and The Scotsman 50,790, while the Scottish Daily Mail sold 126,542.

Rights issue

Referring to the fragility of Scottish newspapers, Andrew Neil, the former publisher of The Scotsman, says in the documentary: "I think they're definitely in decline. It's gaining in speed and it could well be as fatal as it was for the shipyards of the Clyde."

Earlier this week, Johnston Press, the owners of The Scotsman, announced a rights issue which they hope will raise 212m to meet company debt.

Johnston has also negotiated to sell 20% of the company to a Malaysian businessman following an advertising slump which saw their share price drop to 124p from a high of 490p a year ago.

The Herald has announced it is seeking a further 40 redundancies.

Unions claim that a third of The Herald's workforce has been cut since the paper was bought by Newsquest in 2002.

The latest assault on advertising revenues follows a decision by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to make better use of council tax.

Councillor Michael Green said local authority driven recruitment and public notices websites were expected to save an initial 5m.

Jim Raeburn, director of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, tells the documentary: "There is a long-term downward trend in circulation but it's not all gloom. The underlying Scottish market is still strong."

John McGurk was commissioned by BBC Scotland to produce "What the Papers Don't Say", which you can hear on BBC Radio Scotland from 0900 BST on Friday.

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