Sales of the Express titles are expected to nosedive when the ABC figures for March are released next week.
Industry sources are estimating the Daily Express will fall by 9.4 per cent year-on-year to 883,000 and the Sunday Express 12.9 per cent to 838,000. They also claim that last Sunday circulation went below 800,000.
A spokesman for the titles’ owner, Richard Desmond, said: "We have no comment on speculation around ABC figures."
The figures, stripped of bulks, come at a time when Associated News-papers has launched an aggressive mailshot of half-price coupons to persuade readers of the Express to come over to The Mail on Sunday and the Saturday Daily Mail.
It is targeting close to a million potential buyers with a letter from MoS editor Peter Wright asking if they had ever wondered where the Gambols and Peter Hitchens and other one-time Express favourites have gone and whether they would like to follow.
Meanwhile, the continuing downward trend at Ludgate House has caused gloom among top executives. The Daily Mail’s March figure is expected to be down too, year-on-year, but is still estimated at 2.38 million and The Mail on Sunday is likely to drop 2.2 per cent, year-on-year, to 2.35 million.
March has not been a good month generally for sales because of the Easter holiday, though ABC allows newspapers to opt out of declaring Easter Sunday sales for that reason.
The holiday, plus the fact that the Expresses have been stripping out bulks, will have accounted for some of their fall but the underlying downward trend seems to be still prevalent.
Desmond is not likely to take the disappointment lying down. Insiders expect dramatic initiatives soon.
His spokesman said: "Richard will fight with all his energies, whatever the Mail can throw at him. He is confident he can counter the attack. He has always been a fighter and he will make sure the Express group pushes ahead."
By Jean Morgan