UK national newspaper print sales plunge amid coronavirus lockdown

Some titles fall up to 39% as publishers grapple with selling copies with shops shut and transport hubs closed

Print sales for the UK’s biggest national newspapers slumped by as much as 39% last month, as the coronavirus lockdown shut high streets and kept the nation at home.

The Financial Times and the i newspaper reported the biggest decline in circulation, down 39% and 38%, respectively. The decline of circulation of the i was exacerbated by the cessation of the distribution of bulks, free copies, to locations including airports, gyms and railway stations.

Many paid-for national titles proved remarkably resilient, with declines not as steep as many in the industry had feared, as publishers launched initiatives such as home delivery to keep getting print copies into readers’ hands.

The Sunday tabloid and mid-market titles proved to be the best performers, with the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Star Sunday, Sunday Express, Sunday Mirror and the Sunday People holding declines to between 12% and 14%.

Daily titles did not fare as well with the Daily Mail down 16.5%, although it did report a boost of 60,000 readers of its digital edition. The Daily Mirror and the Guardian fell by 18%, with Sunday stablemate the Observer falling 17%. The Daily Express and the Daily Star fell by 19% and 26%, respectively.

The Evening Standard, which relies heavily on the capital’s transportation system to reach readers, distributed just over 423,000 copies a day, almost half the approximately 800,000 copies a day back in early March. Similarly, distribution of the commuter free-sheet Metro UK fell by 70%, from 1.3m to 400,000.

Earlier on Thursday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which publishes the figures, said it was to stop issuing the monthly public report of print newspaper circulation after 33 years.

The organisation, which is still giving publishers the option of continuing to have figures publicly available on its website, said it was addressing “publisher concerns that monthly ABC circulation reports provide a stimulus to write negative narrative of circulation decline”.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

On Thursday, News UK, the owner of the Sun and the Times and Sunday Times, became the latest publisher to stop having the print circulation of its titles made public.

“While print remains a vitally important method of distributing our editorial to readers and meeting our advertisers’ needs, it is logical that the way we measure our audiences reflects the way the world works today,” said David Dinsmore, chief operating officer at News UK.

Telegraph Media Group, the publisher of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, pulled out of ABC at the start of the year and publishes its own independently audited figures.


Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Suddenly, national newspapers are heading for that print cliff fall
As advertisers turn their backs on newsprint, publishers who have been in denial about the digital revolution are confronted by an uncomfortable reality

Roy Greenslade

27, May, 2016 @7:14 AM

Article image
Daily Mail owner's print advertising revenues plunge by 70%
DMGT also owns the i and Metro and Covid-19 lockdown has hit newspaper industry

Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

28, May, 2020 @8:46 AM

Article image
Metro climbs to second place in the circulation league
Free newspaper overtakes the Daily Mail and closes on the Sun on weekdays after giving away thousands of copies on London buses

Roy Greenslade

01, Dec, 2016 @12:09 PM

Article image
Jeremy Corbyn and the national anthem - a press chorus of disapproval
But newspapers were bound to criticise Labour’s republican leader - and would have done so even if he had decided to bow to pressure to sing it

Roy Greenslade

16, Sep, 2015 @7:53 AM

Article image
'Newsprint: it ain't over yet' - debate on the future of newspapers
After the demise of the printed Independent, and amid the digital revolution, panel will consider whether it is too early to write off the press

Roy Greenslade

09, Mar, 2016 @11:07 AM

Article image
Freesheets set to feel it most as cost of newsprint rises
Paper costs will be rising by up to 25% this year. That's not good news for any newspaper, but particularly not for those without a cover price to raise

Peter Preston

09, Jan, 2011 @12:05 AM

Look how many newspapers are still sold every day in the UK...

Analysis of ABC figures for national and regional dailies show a remarkable continuing penetration by newsprint newspapers

Roy Greenslade

14, Dec, 2010 @3:58 PM

Article image
Print advertising in UK national newspapers rises for first time since 2010, study finds
Advertiser backlash against tech companies has been cited as factor in spending reversal

Mark Sweney

31, Jul, 2018 @2:24 PM

London Evening Standard pulls out of ABC's national newspaper audit
Capital's paid-for evening paper to report as regional, but with monthly figures, bureau says. By Oliver Luft

Oliver Luft

10, Jul, 2009 @12:04 PM

Print still popular in the City... possibly

Survey discovers who reads what in the corporate sector

Roy Greenslade

06, Feb, 2013 @11:31 AM