It has been a month now since the News of the World closure, and estimates place the Sunday mid-market and popular titles’ circulation as half a million down from June’s ABC figures.
Advertisers and newsagents fears were briefly allayed the weekend immediately following the closure, when sales actually rose by 100,000. Each week since, however, the circulation has slipped. Indeed, the latest estimate (for 31st July), show that the Sunday market is down by 280,000 on the previous week.
However, individual publications have benefited from this rare occasion to mop-up the previous market leader’s readers.
Selling an average of just over 1.9 million before the News of the World’s closure, the Mail on Sunday has since enjoyed a significant boost of around 800,000 copies, taking it to a circulation of 2.2million. However, this has come at a cost – reducing copy prices to £1 and heavy advertising.
Since July 31st, this figure dropped slightly by 60,000, while the Sunday Mirror has gained the same amount between July 31st and August 7th to bring its circulation to 2 million.
Price battles are giving way to front-page promotions as the two mid-market and Sunday popular leaders jostle for News of the World’s readers.
Elsewhere, the Sunday Express, People, and Daily Star on Sunday have also made considerable gains in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal, although all three have also recorded slight dips since the circulation highs on July 31st. The recent riots will help boost Sunday 14th August figures.
Now that the new pecking order has been established, two questions remain.
Firstly, are News International going to launch a new Sunday paper to replace News of the World and win back their old readers? Most commentators suggest that it is not so much a case of if, but when, with Sun on Sunday, thesunonsunday.com, thesunonsunday.co.uk and also sunonsunday.co.uk registered in the immediate aftermath of the News of the World closure.
As one media commentator points out, in 1978/9, for just under a year, the Times and Sunday Times failed to publish as the staff went on strike. Competitors gained much, but not all of, the circulation. While the gains did not disappear immediately when the Times and Sunday Times came back, over a period of time the circulations returned to normal. This historical model suggests that if an essentially re-named News of the World was launched, it would gain much of the old News of the World’s circulation.
However, a new ‘Sun on Sunday’ would carry with it the tarnish of the News of the World and its related scandals. With newspaper circulations already on the decline, the danger for both News International and the newspaper industry at large, is that a proportion of the old News of the World audience will simply stop reading newspapers.
So, while the remaining mid-market and popular Sunday papers are currently enjoying a circulation rise, when the new Sun on Sunday is launched, it may be case of dividing-up a Sunday newspaper circulation that has had an accelerated decline – a situation far from ideal for any of the Sunday papers.