It’s a red-letter day for us here at 22 Old Queen Street. The latest circulation figures for British magazines have just been published and show that sales of The Spectator have broken through their all-time high. More people are buying the magazine now than at any time since we started publishing 187 years ago.
Our last high was in the first half of 2006; since then, print publications have struggled to cope with the challenges of the digital age. Newspaper sales have fallen by 40 per cent and are falling still; ours bottomed out mid-2009. Different publishers have responded in different ways; some have full paywall, others no paywall at all. We have gone for a metered paywall: if you like us enough to read a certain number of magazine pieces a month, we ask you to join us as a subscriber.
And it’s working. Our metered paywall hasn’t stopped the number of online readers surging by 83 per cent year-on-year: our monthly unique users averaged 2.0 million in the first six months of the year (and about 300,000 of them from social media). When our digital readers subscribe, most ask for the printed magazine – so in this way, our digital success is reinforcing our print success. Print sales now are higher than they were 15 years ago.
Our headline ABC certificate figure for the first half of 2015 is 63,906 copies, our highest for five years. But that’s a circulation figure, not a sales figure – the difference between the two is crucial. To judge any publication properly, you have to strip away things like airline deals (where copies are bought in bulk, or given away free) and look at how many people are actively buying it.
For The Spectator it’s 55,165 for print and a further 7,553 digital-only, making a total of 62,718 paying readers in H1 of 2015. That takes us (just!) past the previous record. And we’re growing fast: UK print subscriptions are up 6 per cent in the last six months alone. So our recovery is complete; we’re now entering into a new period: the most successful in our magazine’s long, proud history.
Of course, the word ‘magazine’ doesn’t quite cover it: we now publish more articles online than in print; and have an outstanding stable of bloggers of the calibre of Nick Cohen, Rod Liddle, Alex Massie and Douglas Murray. We broadcast regular podcasts (subscribe to them here) with tens of thousands of listeners. We have sibling magazines, like Spectator Life, Spectator Health and Spectator Money. And we host regular sell-out events – our next ones include an evening with Melvyn Bragg and hearing Andrew Neil talk to Charles Moore about the long-awaited second volume of his Thatcher biography.
The digital era means it’s easier to convene meetings with our readers; not just at these debates, but for tea in our garden here at 22 Old Queen Street, or for beer and talk about politics. And when we do, we’re all struck by a simple fact: The Spectator’s greatest asset is our subscribers: the best-read, most fun people in the world. To join them – and us – from just £1 a week, click here.