Cantillon: Newspaper circulation data points to challenges ahead for Sunday Business Post

Unbroken run of decline in print sales has continued in 2013, figures for UK titles show

Paul Cooke has form when it comes to getting media ventures off the ground and keeping them above it. The man now expected to take the managerial reins of the Sunday Business Post, rescuing it from a possible liquidation, was a founding executive of Independent Star Limited, the joint venture between Independent News and Media and Express Newspapers that publishes the Irish Daily Star. Cooke (52) stood down as managing director of the company in November 2011, stating that he wanted to "take on fresh challenges".

He has certainly found himself a challenge by allying with finance house Key Capital to bid for the Sunday Business Post. The print media market is in the throes of a painful transition that not all players are likely to complete. Physical circulation is falling fast, while business models for digital products have either yet to be proven or yet to be established. The Sunday Business Post is in the "yet to be proven" category, in that it has a digital payment platform in place.

That is one thing it has going for it, even if subscriber numbers to date have been low. Print circulation across the market has been on an unbroken run of decline since 2008, or a year earlier in the case of some titles. At the last count – meaning ABC circulation data for the second half of 2012 – the Sunday Business Post sold an average of 39,416 copies a week. It is safe to assume this figure has dropped by another few thousand since. Circulation data for British-owned titles published yesterday points to further weakness in their Republic of Ireland sales.

The Sunday Times – which, like the Sunday Business Post, targets the ABC1 demographic – sold 94,510 copies in the Republic of Ireland in the month of May. This was down 8.3 per cent on its circulation in the Republic a year earlier. Tabloid sales of the British newspapers also suffered. The Sun on Sunday still had the glow of novelty in May 2012, selling 70,950 copies. That has faded 21 per cent to 56,054. Cooke knows what a profitable newspaper entity looks like. But not even the commercial nous of a veteran like Rupert Murdoch finds the print news market a happy place to be in 2013.