British newspapers are haemorrhaging readers and influence, and next Sunday we will see just how much this process has accelerated. That day’s newspapers will — I’m sure — all be making
some kind of pitch to orphaned News of the World readers. When Today closed, there was a similar scramble ("Welcome to your place in The Sun," screamed its main rival), but this time they
could be in for a shock. American experience suggests that when newspapers close, their readers just disappear — they liked their former paper, saw it as an old friend and didn’t feel
compelled to find a new one. Preliminary research, picked up by my old colleague Will Heaven, suggests that two-thirds of the News of the World’s readers just
won’t pick up another newspaper again. And why? Because there’s not another newspaper like it.
There’s been a lot of sneering in the last few days, as if News of the World readers were all lumpens who buy it because they struggle with long words. In fact, my former newspaper had more ABC1
readers (2.93 million) than the Sunday Times or Sunday Telegraph (Peter Preston explains it all "http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jun/12/abc-circulation-figures-national-readership-survey">here). Or, put another way, for every person watching Newsnight there were 16 people reading the
News of the World. This isn’t to belittle Newsnight, which is a great programme for a specific audience. But the News of the World did inform and entertain seven million people of a Sunday. No
other Sunday newspaper, anywhere in the world, had so many buyers. On the Fleet St grapevine, it’s said that other Sunday papers believe that picking up News of the World readers will, at best,
delay their decline by 6-9 months.
Many CoffeeHousers will say this serves the paper right, and I agree that the mortal blow was self-inflicted. But I suspect we’re about to witness the biggest single dip in British newspaper
industry sales — and that the Screws will be the first in a series of casualties.