The most unnerving job in the media must be delivering the monthly
ABC circulation charts to Lord Hollick, chief executive of the Express
group. Ever since his company acquired the three papers in 1996, the
figures have spelt unremitting gloom.
Faced with these repeated disappointments, Tony Blair’s favourite media
tycoon remains, in public, upbeat. Yet it would be no surprise if this
cool, ruthless businessman was starting to wonder whether United News
and Media should drop the news bit and concentrate on its more lucrative
The most depressing performance in the latest figures comes from the
Sunday Express, whose sales have slipped below the magic million to
Its year-on-year decline of 5.7 per cent is the second worst performance
in the Sunday market after the People. It has lost around a million
sales in each decade since 1970, when it printed four million a week.
That was down to three million in 1980 and just below two million by
1990. If the trend continues, it will shed its last reader in 2010.
It is true that sales of national newspapers as a whole are in decline,
yet the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Express’ only rival mid-market title,
is 3.3 per cent up year-on-year at 2,292,455 readers.
Nor can Lord Hollick turn to his weekday papers for comfort. The Daily
Star, at 621,686, records the biggest year-on-year fall at 7.44 per
cent, followed by the Express, with a dip of 5.25 per cent to 1,081,836.
How long before that goes below a million too?
Repeated makeovers have failed to halt the decline and there is no sign
that editor-in-chief Rosie Boycott will be any more successful than her
predecessors. The root problem is with Hollick himself.
Newspaper executives get irritated when old Fleet Street hacks like me
bang on pompously about the value of experience and professionalism. Yet
it is plain that the most successful newspaper groups have invariably
been headed not by financiers and industrialists, but by
Paul Dacre, who runs the Mail group, has been in newspapers all his
life, as had his predecessor, Sir David English. Les Hinton, executive
chairman of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, was a colleague of mine
on the Sun in the 1960s. The Daily Mirror had its best years when Hugh
Cudlipp was in charge and, even under David Montgomery’s controversial
command, it began to close the gap with the Sun. What newspaper
experience hones above all is the instinct for choosing good editors.
Hollick clearly does not have it.
When asked, Hollick ritually denies that his newspapers are for
Yet nobody would be too surprised to see someone take them off his hands
before too long.