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”.

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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.

Contributor

Mark Sweney Media business correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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