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May 21, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:19am

End of the ABCs? UK news publishers to keep circulation data private as Covid-19 crisis hits

By Freddy Mayhew

UK national newspapers no longer have to make their print circulations public through auditors ABC from today, which means we may never get the full picture of the impact of coronavirus on newspaper sales.

News UK, publisher of the Sun and Times titles, has opted to make its circulation figures private – only agencies who have signed a confidentiality agreement can see them.

It is the only major news publisher to have chosen this approach so far.

See national newsbrand ABC figures for April (under lockdown)

The monthly newsbrand report will no longer be published, bringing an end to open competition between the national newspapers as they jostled for position in the most-read rankings.

The monthly ABC reports have shown paid-for print circulation to be in a state of constant decline for a number of years now, reflecting the shift towards digital by readers which has disrupted the traditional news model.

UK national newspaper sales have fallen by nearly two-thirds over the last two decades, according to recent analysis of ABC data by Press Gazette.

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ABC said the change in reporting “addresses publisher concerns that monthly ABC circulation reports provide a stimulus to write a negative narrative of circulation decline”.

It will also allow newspapers to take control of their own sales narrative, ABC’s chief executive Simon Redlich told Press Gazette.

He said the concern among publishers was the monthly circulation data “hampers them” in talking about their own approach.

“If their brand is focused on a particular strategy, it makes it more difficult for them to get that story across,” he said.

The Telegraph pulled out of ABC reporting at the start of this year saying it was no longer a “key metric”. Publishers are increasingly looking to subscriptions and other metrics to measure success in the digital age.

News UK has said it is focusing on the total brand reach figure provided by audience measurement company PamCo, which replaced the National Readership Survey in 2018.

PamCo publishes quarterly and includes audiences on all platforms: phone, tablet, desktop and print. The Sun had the highest total monthly brand reach of any UK newsbrand in 2019.

Those newspapers that continue to make their circulations public will reveal data for the five weeks from 23 March, when the lockdown began in the UK, although this will not include year-on-year comparisons.

Last year Newsquest, which publishes a number of local weekly and regional daily titles, including The Herald in Scotland, pulled all of them out of ABC auditing.

Redlich said ABC set a standard for the industry and continued to be relevant, adding that there is still “a lot of interest in our data”.

The final UK national newsbrand ABC report covered the period to 23 March and showed print sales were largely holding up during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK.

Free titles have been among the worst hit by the crisis, with City AM suspending its print and digital editions, while the Evening Standard has halved its circulation and Metro has dropped close to 1m copies.

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