Brexit Proves Mixed Blessing For UK Newspapers

British newspapers were deeply involved in the struggle for public opinion ahead of last month’s referendum vote deciding that Britain will leave the European Union. So it is only fitting that they should share in the all consequences, both good and bad.

There is plenty of both, as newspapers across the political spectrum enjoyed a big boost in online traffic. But they are also suffering negative impacts from political uncertainty on their core advertising business.

Almost all the big UK papers saw digital traffic jump following the vote for Brexit, compared to the same period a year before, according to the UK Audit Bureau of Circulations, which tracks online activity as well as print.

The rises were seen in both “quality” and tabloid papers. The Mail Online rose 7.9% to just over 15 million unique visitors per day, while The Guardian’s online traffic jumped 15.5% to 10.3 million unique visitors per day.

Further down the totem pole, The Telegraph soared 29.5% to 5.6 million unique visitors daily, while The Independent rocketed 43.8% to 4.4 million. The Mirror was up 8% to over 5 million, The Sun rose 15.4% to 2.7 million, and The Express was up 18.7% to 1.9 million.

The only big paper to suffer a drop in traffic was TheDaily Star, which slipped 9% to just over 800,000 daily unique visitors.

Many newspapers also saw print circulation increase modestly in June, compared to the previous month, again including “quality” and tabloid papers, with The Observer up 8.4%, The Daily Star up 5%, The Guardian up 3.6%, The Telegraph up 3.2%, The Sunday Express up 2.7%, The Times up 2.5%, and The Sun up 2.2%.

On a year-over-year basis, The Times was up a remarkable 15.3% to around 450,000, an almost unheard-of feat in an age of relentless print declines.

That’s where the good news ends.

On the advertising front, things are looking considerably more dismal, at least judging by the results from the Daily Mail and General Trust, which publishes the eponymous newspaper and its weekend counterpart, the Mail on Sunday. The Daily Mail publisher’s total revenues in the third quarter were down 6%, as advertising revenues tumbled 10%, with print ads down 11% while online ads were up 18%.

However, the publisher added that the trend appears to have reversed in the current quarter, suggesting much of the economic uncertainty associated with Brexit has dissipated, at least for the time being.  

That said, a previous report from UK media research firm Enders Analysis warned that Brexit’s broader economic impact could accelerate the decline in newspaper publishing, with print ad revenues set to drop by as much as 25% across the industry in 2016-2017.

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