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National press ABCs: FT circulation up a third since October 2020 with return of bulks

The FT has grown its circulation by a third in the past year, and by a quarter between September and October, largely by putting out more free bulk copies.

The newspaper reported a circulation of 138,446 in October, which includes 55,222 bulk copies distributed for free in places like airports and hotels which have more than doubled since October 2020.

The FT’s newsstand sales have decreased by 29% from 20,357 to 14,490 in a year although paid subscriptions grew 191% from 3,697 to 10,764. The FT also reports sales in other countries of 57,970 within its total.

It is the FT’s highest circulation since the first three weeks of March 2020, when it was on 146,373, while the trend at most paid-for newspapers has been decline throughout 2021. (The i, which is up since January, is the only other national to put out bulks).

Meanwhile Metro has settled its free distribution on 1.05m which is up 35% compared to October 2020 when some workers had begun to return to work but at a slower pace than expected.

Its free rival in London, the Evening Standard, is down 10% compared to last year on 457,542.

The Saturday edition of the Daily Mail remains the most-read newspaper with a weekly circulation of 1.47m. The weekday edition sells 784,439. Both the daily and Sunday editions saw a 9% year-on-year decline.

The biggest year-on-year decline was once again at The Sunday People, which fell by 19% to 101,597. The Daily Star Sunday was down 18% to 118,260.

Scroll down or click here for new graphs charting the ups and downs of the UK national press in the past 20 years – with a spotlight on how Covid-19 affected circulations.

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National newsbrand circulations in October 2021 (ABC) with monthly and yearly changes – this page will be updated monthly:

The column for bulks refers to copies which are circulated for free at venues such as airports and hotels.

The above figures do not include the Sun, Times and Telegraph titles which have all chosen to keep their ABC circulations private since the start of 2020. The Guardian and Observer joined them in September 2021.

The last ABC figures we have for these titles are as follows:

  • The Sun: 1,210,915 (March 2020)
  • The Sun on Sunday: 1,013,777 (March 2020)
  • The Sunday Times: 647,622 (March 2020)
  • Daily Telegraph: 317,817 (December 2019)
  • Sunday Telegraph: 248,288 (December 2019)
  • The Observer: 136,656 (July 2021)
  • The Guardian: 105,134 (July 2021)
2020/21 in focus

These charts show UK national newspaper circulation since the first Covid-19 national lockdown, announced on 23 March 2020.

The free daily Metro was by far the hardest hit as commuters disappeared from train stations and other key locations almost overnight. Circulation had started to bounce back as publisher DMGT begun to ramp up distribution again, but the title faced a small slump in circulation in November and a larger one again in January – coinciding with the start of England’s second and third lockdowns. In May 2021 it returned to distributing 1m copies per day.


We have also charted the longer-term change in ABC circulation over the past 20 years across the UK press.

These charts show the extent of the print decline from The Sun reaching 3.76m in 2000 and the Sun on Sunday’s launch in February 2012 with a short-lived 3.21m before dropping to just above 2m.

Meanwhile, though the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail once were competitive in print reach at around 2.3m-2.4m in 2000, the Mail now has a circulation three times the size of its former rival.

The Sunday tabloids all saw a spike in 2011 after the closure of the News of the World but few retained the readers – the Sunday People and Sunday Mirror did best at doing so, but largely lost them when the Sun on Sunday launched.

These charts will be updated each month to include the latest figures.

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September 2021

Reach’s Sunday People and Sunday Post newspapers recorded the biggest year-on-year declines in circulation in September of the publicly-audited national newspapers.

Both saw their circulations decline by 19% while the Sunday Mirror, Daily Star Sunday and Sunday Mail all fell by 14%. All are owned by Reach.

The Financial Times was the only paid-for newspaper to grow its circulation year-on-year, by 7% to a total of 111,898. However its free bulk copies, distributed in locations such as airports and hotels, increased by 41% to 32,351. Although paid subscriptions grew by 130% to 9,102, newsstand copies were down by a quarter to 15,154. Some 55,291 copies are sold in other countries.

Aside from the free Metro and the FT, every other newspaper remained steady between August and September changing by between 0% and -2%.

August 2021

The i was the only national newspaper to grow its paid circulation from July to August as subscriptions growth offset declining newsstand sales.

The i’s print subscriptions grew from 23,199 in July to 25,223 in August. At the same time it put out more paid multiple copies, known as bulks, in locations such as airports and hotels (rising from 4,006 to 4,620).

Its average circulation therefore grew from 143,486 to 144,570. However this was still 5% down on last August.

The August ABC figures are the first in which the Guardian and Observer are absent, having chosen to keep their circulations private as News UK and the Telegraph did last year.

The Guardian’s departure from the grid comes after its circulation was overtaken by the Financial Times in June for the first time since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Previously the audited circulation of the FT had been above that of the Guardian since 2000, the earliest available online ABC records.

The FT was again the only paid-for title to have grown year-on-year as it distributes bulk copies that were missing during the pandemic. It grew 12% year-on-year to 105,213 in August but fell by 2% from July.

The free Metro more than doubled its August 2020 figure following the end of the winter lockdown and the ramping up of its distribution to reach people increasingly venturing out again. It has now distributed an average of more than 1m copies per day for three months in a row.

July 2021

Putting on bulk copies has helped the FT to grow its circulation by nearly a quarter (24%) year-on-year while sales of The i paper have fallen by just 1% over the same period, new ABC figures for July show.

The FT sells more than 107,000 copies, of which more than 32,000 are bulks. The i, which is now part of the Daily Mail group, has a circulation of more than 143,000 copies, with some 4,000 bulks.

The free Metro’s distribution was in excess of 1m in July 2021, nearly tripling its print output during the height of the pandemic.

All other newspapers audited by ABC reported a fall in year-on-year circulation. The Telegraph, Sun and Times titles are not included.

The Daily Mail has the largest paid-for circulation among the titles audited by ABC at more than 933,000. Its sister title the Mail on Sunday is behind on a little over 813,000 copies.

June 2021

Reach’s national Sunday titles continued to experienced the biggest year-on-year circulation drops in the industry in June.

The Sunday Post dropped by 16%, Daily Star Sunday was down 15%, Scottish tabloid Sunday Mail was down 14%, the Sunday People was down 13% and the Sunday Mirror by 11%. The Sunday Express was Reach’s best faring Sunday title, falling by 7%.

The best performance among paid-for newspapers was at the Financial Times which grew by 38% year-on-year and 5% month-on-month to 108,014.

As lockdown restrictions have eased the FT has put the number of bulk copies which go to locations like airports and hotels back up by 751% – from 3,534 to 30,093 – putting it on a similar level to June 2019 when 31, 057 bulk copies were distributed. The number of copies it sold in other countries was also up, although this was half 2019 levels.

No other paid-for newspapers grew month-on-month, and the i was the only other to grow year-on-year, although this could mainly be attributed to an increase in bulk distribution similar to the FT.

However the i’s bulks remain, by contrast, far below 2019 levels – 50,250 in June 2019 versus 3,699 this year.

The Metro has continued putting its free distribution back up as lockdown restrictions continued to ease. It went up by 10% between May and June and 224% compared to last June, topping 1m on average.

By comparison its rival in London, the free Evening Standard, has decided to maintain its distribution at Covid levels and concentrate on online growth. It was distributing 492,406 copies on average in June.

Scroll down or click here for new graphs charting the ups and downs of the UK national press in the past 20 years – with a spotlight on how Covid-19 affected circulations in the past year.

May 2021

The Financial Times and the i were the only paid UK national newspapers to grow their circulations in May compared to last year – despite the first Covid-19 lockdown’s severe impact on spring 2020 newsstand sales.

Both newspapers reported growth even when their bulk copies (those distributed for free at locations such as airports and hotels) are taken into account.

The i grew its circulation by 3% year-on-year excluding bulks to 140,721 or by 5% to 144,192 when bulks are included.

Meanwhile the FT grew by 2% to 77,218, excluding bulks, in May. Including bulks it was up 30% to 102,579.

Every other national newspaper saw an annual decline, with the smallest at the Daily Express, owned by Reach, which fell by 1% to 239,024.

May continued the trend of Reach’s Sunday titles experiencing the biggest year-on-year drops, however (scroll down or click here to see April’s report).

Scotland’s Sunday Post and Sunday Mail were down 14% and 11% respectively. Nationally the Daily Star Sunday was down 12% and the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People were both down 7%.

In May last year most national newspapers began to recover after their circulations had been hit hard by the first five weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Month-on-month, the FT (2%), i (1%) and the Guardian (0%) were the only paid-for titles not to see a dip. The biggest decline from April was at the Mail on Sunday (5%).

The ABC figures also demonstrated the impact of loosening Covid-19 restrictions on free newspapers as Metro and the Evening Standard increased their distributions by 190% and 9% respectively compared to May last year.

April 2021

Reach’s four Sunday titles – the Daily Star Sunday, Sunday Express, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – were the only national titles to have a lower circulation in April than they did during the UK’s strictest Covid-19 lockdown one year earlier.

The rest of the UK’s national newspapers are back above the circulations of their worst Covid slump, which took place amid uncertainties about the future for the industry as the UK was told to stay at home at the start of the pandemic.

Despite its 7% annual decline, the Daily Star Sunday had the biggest month-on-month growth of 3%. Most paid-for titles were able to keep their April circulations similar to March, with a drop of -1% the largest nationally and of -2% at the Sunday Mail the biggest overall.

The Scottish title, which is also owned by Reach, was down year-on-year by 6% to 85,450.

Despite the declines at Reach’s Sunday titles, its national dailies the Mirror and Express were up by 2% and 3% respectively compared to April last year.

The Financial Times grew by 13% year-on-year to 100,215 in April. However it has upped its number of free copies distributed at locations such as airports and hotels from 7,042 last April to 22,487 – excluding these, its circulation has decreased 5% to 77,728.

By contrast the i, the only other paper to include bulk free copies in its ABC audited circulation, was up by 7% if they are included (143,380) and 9% if they are not (140,013).

This equals the Observer, which was also up 9% compared to last April to reach 140,894 copies each week.

The i’s DMGT stablemates the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were also both up by 4% and 5% respectively on last year. DMGT’s free title Metro has been “building back” its distribution, as editor Ted Young told Press Gazette last week, to reach an average of 805,471 per day in April. It then topped 1m on 17 May as lockdown restrictions eased.

The Evening Standard also increased its free distribution compared to last April, by 16% to 492,575. Chief executive Charles Yardley has told Press Gazette he is planning to keep numbers at around half a million going forward.

March 2021

Paid-for national newspaper circulations have fallen by almost a fifth (18%) on average since just before the first Covid-19 lockdown.

The final year-on-year comparison with pre-Covid ABC newspaper circulations shows the biggest declines have been at the i and Financial Times, which are both down by about a third to 143,204 and 100,781 respectively.

They are the only two paid-for ABC-audited titles continuing to distribute bulk copies to public locations such as airports. Excluding bulks, the FT’s circulation fell by 35% year-on-year and the i’s fell by 18%.

The smallest, and only single-digit, declines were at the Mail on Sunday and Observer which both saw their circulation fall by 9% in the past year to 867,077 and 142,277 respectively in March 2021.

ABC’s March 2020 report spanned 2 to 22 March, stopping before the first lockdown came into place – although many people began working from home and curtailing social gatherings from about a week earlier.

The Evening Standard’s free circulation is down by 29% to 494,364 compared to March last year. The newspaper’s chief executive Charles Yardley told Press Gazette this month he remains committed to print but will not raise the distribution back to pre-pandemic levels.

Free rival Metro has dropped its distribution by half to 695,444. It initially dropped by 70% in April last year and rose to a

The biggest-selling issue of a UK national newspaper remains the Daily Mail’s Saturday issue, which sold an average 1,588,164 copies each week last month compared to 1,699,891 in March last year.

February 2021

The Observer reported the smallest drop in print circulation among UK national newspapers in February – but this was still down by 9% on the year before.

The Observer, which had an average circulation of 140,920, was the only newspaper not to see a double-digit drop. The next smallest decline was the Mail on Sunday, which fell by 12% to 848,526.

Sister title the Daily Mail was the only publication to see month-on-month growth from January, up 1% to 964,825. It was 15% behind the 1,134,184 it had in February 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK.

However, the Daily Mail’s digital edition grew its average circulation by 4% from 94,171 in January to 98,107.

[Read more: See latest online audience data published by Pamco here]

In February free titles Metro and Evening Standard distributed 58% and 38% fewer copies respectively compared to the year before. Both are continuing to publish for key worker commuters although most people remain under a “stay at home” order, with the Standard also delivering to doorsteps in certain parts of London.

The biggest paid-for circulation drops in February were at the Financial Times (down 36%) and i (35%), the only two ABC-audited titles continuing to distribute bulk copies to public locations such as airports.

Excluding bulks, the FT was down 40% and the i was down 18% – taking it below the Daily Star’s 20% decline.

January 2021

The UK’s current coronavirus lockdown has not hit national newspaper circulations as hard as last year’s strict April restrictions did, according to new figures from ABC.

However, most titles are now again below the circulation levels to which they had begun to recover in May last year.

The Daily Mail’s print circulation has fallen to its lowest since the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in April.

The UK’s top-selling newspaper sold an average of 960,019 copies each day in January, an 18% drop year-on-year. In April it reported a circulation of 944,981, which grew to 979,836 in May.

The Mail overtook The Sun in May 2020 and Press Gazette understands it has since consolidated its lead.

Digital edition sales add a further 77,736 to the Mail’s daily circulation figure, according to ABC – keeping it above 1m.

In March last year, before the first UK lockdown, the Mail was selling in excess of 1.1m copies per day.

Also below their May 2020 circulations were the Mail on Sunday, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star, Sunday Express, Daily Star on Sunday, Sunday People, and the Guardian.

Only the Observer, i and Financial Times were above their May figures from last year in January.

Several national newspapers saw bigger year-on-year drops in January than the Mail: the FT’s circulation fell by 39%, the i by 35%, the Sunday Post by 22%, the Daily Star by 21%, the Daily Express by 19% and the Daily Mirror by 19%.

The smallest year-on-year drop was at the Observer, which saw a decline of 8% to a circulation of 143,764.

The biggest month-on-month fall from December was also at the FT (down by 8% to 97,067) followed by the Daily Star Sunday, i and Guardian which were all down by 5%.

The only title to report any growth was Scottish tabloid the Sunday Mail, which was up 1% month-on-month to 88,819.

Metro and the Evening Standard, which had their free commuter distribution models hit by the Covid-19 lockdowns, were down 58% and 39% respectively year on year in January.

December 2020

The Mail on Sunday reported the smallest drop in print circulation in December – but this was still down by 9% on the year before.

It had an average circulation of 954,497 in December 2019, down to 865,439 last month. It was the only newspaper not to see a double-digit year-on-year decline, with the Observer the second smallest drop (by 10% to 147,296).

The Financial Times saw its print circulation fall by more than a third (35%) year-on-year to 105,358 – the biggest fall among the UK’s paid-for national newspapers.

However, the FT did grow by 1% month-on-month as it continues to recover from the initial Covid-19 lockdown slump common to each of the titles.

The Guardian saw the biggest month-on-month growth of 2% in December.

The biggest fall from November 2020 was at the Sunday People, down 5% to 120,429.

Wales went into lockdown on 20 December while Scotland and Northern Ireland were placed under tight restrictions from Boxing Day and much of London and the south east of England entered strict Tier 4 restrictions days before Christmas.

Metro and the Evening Standard, which had their free commuter distribution models hit by the Covid-19 lockdowns, were still 45% and 38% down respectively on the previous year’s print readership.

November 2020

Several national newsbrands managed a month on month increase in print circulation in November, with The Observer seeing the biggest rise at 4%.

The Observer’s print circulation rose from 145,680 to 152,129 having remained steady in the previous month.

The Sunday Express, the Sunday People and the Guardian also saw print sales rise 1%, after seeing declines between September and October

The Observer saw the smallest year-on-year decline at 5%. It was the only title not to report a double-digit year-on-year fall.

The Financial Times had the biggest paid-for decline (36% to 104,024) followed by the i (31% to 151,888).

Metro and the Evening Standard, which had their free commuter distribution models hit by the Covid-19 lockdowns, were still 46% and 40% down on the previous year’s print readership.

October 2020

The Observer was the only national print newspaper brand not to see a year on year print circulation decline in October.

The Observer’s print readership remained steady on 145,680 as every other title except the Mail on Sunday, which fell by 9%, reported a double-digit year-on-year decline.

The Financial Times had the biggest paid-for decline (39% to 105,592) followed by the i (31% to 151,888).

Metro and the Evening Standard, which had their free commuter distribution models hit by the Covid-19 lockdowns, were still 45% and 39% down on the previous year’s print readership – although Metro managed to add a fifth back onto its output in October.



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15 thoughts on “National press ABCs: FT circulation up a third since October 2020 with return of bulks”

  1. Just cut the cover price of The People to that of the Daily Star Sunday and advertise it in every Reach national and regional dailies weekend editions and sales will go up.

  2. You can now subscribe to both the Express titles for just £1 per week for the next eight weeks. The same promotional deal applies to the Star and Mirror tiles and even the Record/Mail titles in Scotland.
    Yet the Sunday People is not part of any deal. Reach PLC are killing off it’s oldest national newspaper. They make Richard Desmond look like Lord Beaverbrook when it comes to running nation all newspapers.

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