When The Spectator returned furlough money during lockdown, we set ourselves a new target. Rather than take taxpayer subsidy, we’d try to grow our way of this mess by hitting sales of 100,000. For a magazine that closed last year averaging 83,020 weekly sales, it was ambitious. But in times of crisis, we thought, there should be a bigger demand than ever for original, thought-provoking and wide-ranging comment and analysis. The few days after our furlough announcement brought the largest sales increase in our history and the momentum has continued. I’m delighted to announce that we are now close to hitting that target, with sales averaging 96,817 in Q3 of this year (July, Aug, Sep). We hope to break through 100,000 before Christmas. Perhaps even next month.
We have created a new Covid-19 daily news email, edited by Kate Andrews, which has a 45 per cent open rate and 110,000 subscribers – making it the biggest email of its kind in the world. Our podcasts have a record number of listeners and our website record amounts of traffic. We’ve just launched Spectator TV and will keep broadcasting regularly, thanks to the support of our sponsor Charles Stanley. Our sales figures do not include Freddy Gray’s US edition of The Spectator, which is going great gun: nor do they include frees, or bulks. For the first time, we’re also stripping our triallists.
Judging by the official ABC figures, we now outsell the weekday Guardian (averaging 88,900 at the last count) and the FT (94,395). There is, of course, no direct comparison: they’re daily, we’re weekly. But it’s nice to think our sales are in the same ball park. For a magazine that spent almost all of its 192 years as a minnow swimming alongside big-fish newspapers, that’s quite something. (The whole story is of those 192 years is told by David Butterfield in a book published a few weeks ago.)
All of this does not, alas, add up to riches. Before the virus we ran about 60 events a year, regularly selling out London theatres: it was our second-largest source of income. The rule-of-six has killed such events, with no reprieve in sight. Advertising has been badly hit across the industry. Returning the furlough cash was also expensive, but we believe in making life hard for ourselves – especially if that means redoubling our commitment to our readers. We believe, passionately, that there is a huge market out there for the kind of writing to be found in the pages of The Spectator.
So our sales rise does not mean we’re financially booming – but means that we’re stable and looking forward to the future. Which, in this market, is as much as any publication can ask for. We take none of it for granted. And for this we know who we have to thank: you, our readers, for keeping faith with us. To longstanding subscribers, thank you: working for you is the greatest honour in journalism. And to the 15,000 subscribers who have joined us so far this year: we hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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