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.
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.
National newsbrand circulations in May 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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.