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Darbyshire responds to Manchester Evening News circulation decline

LONDON - Manchester Evening News has defended itself against the sharp decline in today's ABC regional newspaper circulation figures, claiming the title is increasing its audience reach overall.

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The north-west title recorded a 26.8% year-on-year decline to 94,018, but GMG Regional Media said the paid-for circulation figure was "entirely in line with our expectations and business plan".

The newspaper changed strategy by upping its cover price from 10p to 35p last year, and significantly, GMG Regional Media decided to distribute the title free in Manchester city centre.

Elaine Darbyshire, director of corporate communications at GMG Regional said that MEN had no plans to expand its freesheet distribution "into the suburbs", and expected MEN's circulation to hover at the 90,000 mark in the future.

However, according to reports, MEN editor Paul Horrocks has not ruled out the possibility of turning the newspaper into an entirely free edition.

Darbyshire said that the group would respond to market change in order to increase its readership: "Over the last 12 months or so, Manchester Evening News has been responding to market demands. The decision to go part-free, part-paid was taken to ultimately attract a wider audience for our product.

"Reaching more readers is good news for our journalists and it's good news for our advertisers too. We are attracting a different demographic which is more ABC1 oriented and who have a greater disposable income."

The publisher introduced a free "Lite" edition in March 2006, which it has since axed, but claims the popularity of its free city-centre distribution is contributing to a 19% readership rise over the last two years to 428,931.

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