We can today announce that The Spectator’s sales have hit another record high: 77,889 for the first half of this year, up 9 per cent year-on-year. Print subscriptions are growing at their fastest rate since 1995, but we’re recruiting new subscribers through digital means. We hear a lot about the decline of print, or even ‘subscription fatigue’, so ours is an unusual story. And one that I’d like to tell you about in more detail.
The Spectator is the world’s oldest weekly, but its sales are at a 191-year high and growing fast. A typical new subscriber will today come to the magazine after reading our articles online (we have two million visitors to our website per month), receiving our daily email, the Evening Blend, or listening to one of our many podcasts. They will have been invited into one of our events (we’re soon hosting an evening with Robert Harris). When new subscribers take out a trial subscription, they prefer to have the print magazine delivered.
We can announce that Spectator Radio, our podcasts channel, surpassed a million monthly listens in the first half of this year, and is now a major source of subscription growth. People who might not have picked up our magazine (or any other) will listen to a podcast, like what they hear and then accept our (frequent) invitations for a free trial. Two-thirds of trialists convert to a full subscription. Our flagship daily podcast, Coffee House Shots, has an average listen rate of 102 per cent (that is, listeners don’t just finish the whole thing, but rewind and listen again).
The Evening Blend, our daily email set up by Isabel Hardman almost seven years ago, now has more than 70,000 subscribers and an open rate of 39 per cent, making it the UK’s No. 1 politics bulletin.
When James Forsyth started Coffee House the consensus was that people would not pay for blogs. Now, it brings in half of our online subscribers: it is, to them, The Spectator daily (and now, our iPad users can read it on our app, too). The average subscriber visits our website twice every week and reads, on average, three articles per visit. These figures, not total traffic, are what we regard as the most important. In fact, we’ve stopped collating total traffic figures: our goal is not to maximise clicks, but to maximise people willing to pay for our journalism – which they’re willing to do in record numbers.
Thanks to this, we can see what subscribers read. They appreciate the unmatched authority of James Forsyth, Isabel Hardman and Katy Balls in tumultuous political times. They like the variety of argument: Nick Cohen, Matthew Parris, James Kirkup and Stephen Daisley are all resolute Remainers. This isn’t so true for Rod Liddle and Charles Moore. But the whole point of The Spectator is that our readers do not share any political outlook. Our only allegiance is to originality of thought, independence of opinion and elegance of expression.
What they do share is an interest in well-written arguments with which they disagree. They seek respite from the hyper-partisanship of social media. This is the spirit of The Spectator, distilled by Joseph Addison in 1711 (my thoughts on that here) and decanted in print, online and audio. There are barely a dozen journalists in 22 Old Queen Street, but all of us are here for one main reason: because we have the greatest readers in the world. Your feedback, candour and enthusiasm are the secret behind The Spectator’s expansion, and the reason why the oldest continually published magazine in the world is only just beginning. If you’re a subscriber: thank you.
And if you’re not, then try us for a month for free. After all, nearly 78,000 readers can’t be wrong!
PS. The Spectator has also updated the way we report sales figures. We still publish through ABC, the industry auditors, but we've pulled out of the ABC system where a standard print-and-digital subscription was counted as two subscriptions, under what it calls a "bundle" system. We were never comfortable with this method and never used it ourselves. A list of our circulation reports over the last ten years is here, and ABC data for the last 20 years - on both the new and old method - can be found here. Our thanks to ABC for their help during the switch.