How do British newspapers compare to Newsweek’s catastrophic 51% circulation collapse?

 by Martin Belam, 22 October 2012

I felt a great disturbance on the internet last week, as if the voices of a million publishers suddenly cried out in terror. I think it was caused when people heard the figure that, on their way to becoming digital only, Newsweek had lost 51% of their print circulation in the space of just five years.

I eagerly awaited an article comparing that catastrophic loss of print sales with figures for newspapers in the UK. But I didn’t spot one if anyone did it, so I put my datajournalism hard-hat on and crunched the numbers myself.

Before somebody pipes up, I’m aware these figures can’t be an exact comparison. Newsweek was a weekly for a start, and in the UK some titles have closed, and others have sprung up. The calculation of ABC figures and the inclusion of bulk copies has also changed during that period. But I was just interested to see how close, or far away, British newspapers were from that horrendous 51% figure.

The good news?

The overall shrinking of the market in the same five year period in the UK has been nowhere near as much as 51%, it has been 27.4%

The bad news.

I just said the overall shrinking of the newspaper market in the last five years in the UK has been 27.4%

The biggest losers have been the Independent and Independent on Sunday, both with losses of 60%. The former, of course, is partly offset for the group by the launch of the i. If you combined sales of i and The Independent into one bundle, that would show a circulation increase of 41%.

The Guardian and Observer, where I used to work, have both lost 40% of their circulation. Other big losers have been the FT, Sunday Mail, The People and the Sunday Express, with over 35% of their sales disappearing. Actually, it says volumes about the state of the market that I’m not individually listing titles that have lost between 30% and 35% of their sales, because there are too many of them.

Across the five year period, amongst dailies, The Sun and Daily Mail have done the best at retaining circulation figures in percentage terms, and on Sundays it is the Star, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times that have coped best.

Out of interest, if you count News Of The World and The Sun (Sunday) as one paper, it would have lost 36.3% of readers.

Here are the numbers:

 August 2007August 2012% circulation loss
Daily papers   
The Independent198,91662,77368.4%
The Guardian340,196204,27140.0%
The Financial Times391,260251,86235.6%
Daily Record414,312274,40833.8%
Daily Express827,491550,50233.5%
Daily Mirror1,582,2901,088,72431.2%
The Times590,955407,72031.0%
Daily Star825,522600,30427.3%
Daily Telegraph799,152584,08926.9%
The Sun3,158,0452,502,69120.8%
Daily Mail2,228,3211,796,87619.4%
Sunday papers   
News Of The World3,352,1540100%
Independent On Sunday172,63767,94860.6%
The Observer413,035246,24540.4%
Sunday Mail519,276314,38039.5%
The People741,033457,96438.2%
Sunday Express788,579505,90035.8%
Sunday Mirror1,426,1301,101,20622.8%
Mail On Sunday2,203,8721,710,35822.4%
Sunday Times1,169,160914,68521.8%
Sunday Telegraph586,353463,73320.9%
Daily Star Sunday533,248439,62117.6%
The Sun (Sunday)02,133,616-
All papers   
Total ABC sales23,261,93716,897,63327.4%

From the apples and pears small print file...

In order to get the fairest comparison possible I’ve used the August 2007 figures that exclude bulks from this page and this page, and the August 2012 figures that excludes bulks from this page and this page on the Guardian site.

1 Comment

The trend is not great, though back in 2007, I'd guess that many of those titles had artificially high circulation figures due to media owners propping up sales with loss leading covermount DVDs, more magazines or free bottles of water at WH Smith...

Keep up to date on my new blog