The Sun dropping below three million sales for the first time since 1974 was the headline-grabbing fact from the December national newspaper ABC figures.
But ironically, this apparently grim milestone came in a month of improved circulation performance for the red-tops in particular.
The Sun’s year-on-year fall in December was a relatively healthy 1.42 per cent, and barring disasters the paper should bounce back above three million this month.
Overall, the red-tops dropped 2.36 per cent year-on-year in December – less than half the 4.82 per cent rate of decline they were suffering in December 2006.
The Sun’s modest rate of decline was helped by a price-cutting campaign which must be costing News Corp millions of pounds a month.
Of the 2,985,672 average daily sales, some 621,728 are for 20p in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 311,154 are for 20p in Scotland.
The Sun’s main competitor in England – the Daily Mirror – dropped below 1.5 million to 1,494,11 (down 3.04 per cent).
But the Daily Record was gaining ground on the Scottish Sun. In December, the gap between the two in Scotland was just 898 copies.
The Daily Mail managed to keep its sale virtually static, helped by an 11-day series of free fantasy-film DVDs and a TV-promoted Christmas carol DVD.
The Financial Times was the only national daily to increase sales year-on-year – up 2.62 per cent to 449,187 bouyed by its overseas growth. UK sales were only marginally up, from 132,388 in December 2006 to 132,844 last month.
The Evening Standard was able to show an 8.1 per cent headline ABC increase year-on-year, compared to a 7.17 per cent drop year-on-year the previous month. However, the Standard’s headline ABC of 284,406 masks the fact that 99,354 copies are now given away free (compared with 53,682 a year before).
In terms of sheer volume, the News of the World was the biggest faller, dropping 6.31 per cent – or more than 200,000 copies. It had no promotional support in December, compared to a DVD giveaway a year before – and executives may be building up a war chest to support the relaunch of the paper’s magazines, which is expected soon.
The Mail on Sunday, by contrast, kept its sales decline to 1.43 per cent with the help with a giveaway of The Missionary DVD, estimated to have helped put on 245,000 sales, and a Christmas Quiz DVD, understood to have put on 310,000.
We now know that Independent on Sunday editor Tristan Davies was already on his way out in December. The headline ABC sale was down only 0.33 per cent year-on-year but the sale minus other country and bulks was down 5.26 per cent.