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June 22, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:25am

Daily Mail’s move to print pole position is important moment, but only part of the story

By Dominic Ponsford

The headline wrote itself, but as ever the story behind it is far more nuanced.

In May, the Daily Mail sold more copies per day than The Sun making it the top-selling daily newspaper in the UK for the first time in 42 years.

It is a massive achievement for Mail editor Geordie Greig and his team and it means that while the Mail’s circulation was down 17% year-on-year that month, The Sun fell even further.

The year-on-year decline is severe, but taking a glass-is-half-full approach to the figures it is impressive that the Mail sold nearly a million copies per day in the midst of lockdown and the collapse of the UK economy.

The Sun stopped releasing a public ABC figure last month, so we literally don’t know how many copies it sold in May.

The Mail sees The Sun’s figures so was able to cheekily trumpet success on Friday night. But it is not allowed to share The Sun’s numbers and News UK is tight-lipped on what they actually are.

ABC tells us too the current numbers it is putting out during the crisis cannot be compared to those issued before it.

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The Mail’s current ABC does not appear to include any free copies or bulk distribution (copies which used to be handed out free at hotels and airports). But we do know that it comprises:

  • 960,613 paid single copies
  • 10,335 paid subscriptions
  • 8,888 foreign sales
  • And 66,951 digital editions.

The Mail+ digital edition has been the big success story of the pandemic for the title, doubling its circulation during the crisis backed by a TV advertising campaign.

Meanwhile, The Sun would rather talk about its Pamco overall audience estimate. According to this figure, it remains the true winner in the battle for readers among national newspapers.

According to Pamco ,The Sun had an average monthly brand reach in the first quarter of this year of 39.7m in print and online in the UK.
This compared with the Mail on 36m and The Guardian just behind on 35.6m.

The Sun also appears to be ahead on digital-only readership in the UK, according to the latest Comscore data for March.

The future may belong to digital, but print readers remain extremely valuable to all newsbrands.

They are the readers willing to walk into a shop, even in the midst of a contagious disease pandemic, hand over their cash and then spend between 20 and 40 minutes reading a newspaper and looking at the ads.

So while we shouldn’t make too much of this moment, I would not have liked to be The Sun executive who picked up the phone to Rupert Murdoch on Friday night and explained why his favourite title’s 42-year run at the front of the UK daily newspaper circulation race had come to an end.

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