Is the Evening Standard going free by stealth? The London evening paper has been steadily increasing the number of bulk giveaway copies it distributes in recent months to help ease the harm two free afternoon rivals are doing to its headline ABC figure.
In March this year, the Standard gave away 62,506 copies compared with 59,765 the month before, 59,304 in January and 53,682 in December. A year ago, the Standard was giving away 35,831 copies.
When the bulks are taken out of the equation, the Standard's paid-for sale dropped 29.21 per cent year-on-year — so it could well be that, in order to assure the title's survival, Standard bosses are considering moving it largely free.
Elsewhere, the print circulation story is one of steady, but not disastrous, decline. The only title to gain sales yearon- year in March was the Financial Times — with paid-for sales up 2.5 per cent to 423,211.
Closer examination of the FT's figures show that it is the three overseas editions are reaping the extra sales. Sales of the US edition are up nearly 9,000 year on year from 147,437 to 156,162.
Elsewhere, any titles with year-onyear sales falling less than four per cent could claim to be outperforming the field.
The Mail on Sunday is still feeling the benefit of sales merged with Ireland on Sunday in November last year, without which it would be several places lower down in Press Gazette's paid-for circulation growth table.
The Sunday Express had a particularly bad month. DVD giveaways of Jigsaw Man, Jack and the Beankstalk, The Romantic Englishwoman and Snow White didn't stop sales dropping 12.9 per cent year on year.
In a Sunday newspaper market which is looking particularly tough all around, the News of the World has considerably improved its position compared with last month when it was down 7.13 per cent year on year. This time, it was down 4.32 per cent, one of the top performances of any Sunday helped by DVD promotions of Hellraiser and Mr Bean.
The downward trend in print newspaper circulations looks pretty unstoppable at the present. And newspaper executives will no doubt be pointing out to advertisers their burgeoning web readerships — in March, Express Newspapers became the latest to announce major investment in the web.
March ABCe figures for GuardianUnlimited, Times Online and Sun Online will be released on 26 April, as part of the first ABC Group Product Report taking in online and print figures for national newspapers.