So, no pressure then. Thirty six hours before the presses were set to roll for the debut edition of the Sun on Sunday — aka NotW: Resurection — Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter. He wrote:
The Sun:great speculation, sweeps, etc on Sunday’s sale.I will be very happy at anything substantially over two million!— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 24, 2012
Murdoch, whose every passing tweet reads like an audition for an as yet to be commissioned series of Grumpy Old Men, has promised staff in Wapping to stick by “you all, in London, for the next several weeks”. To some that sounds warm and avuncular. To others, like a threat.
And quite what “substantially over two million” means is anyone’s guess.
There remains an appetite for Sunday redtops — both the Sunday Mirror (sales up 65 per cent since the News of the World stopped printing) and the Daily Star Sunday (up 95 per cent from a lower base) greatly benefitted from the absence of a Murdoch tabloid on the Sabbath.
Yet the overall trend for newspaper sales is firmly in the other direction — and that hasn’t changed in the six and a half months since the NotW said “Thank you and Goodbye“.
Consider that most nationals are down substantially (that word again) year on year — sales for the Sun, for example, are 8.35 per cent lower, according to the most recent figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Prior to its closure the NotW was already suffering a similar decline. In the six months from January to June 2011 the paper sold an average of 2.68 million copies a week; impressive numbers but 7.75 per cent fewer compared to the same period 12 moths earlier. Go back to 2010 and the decline was 3 per cent. So the loss of sales is not only ongoing, it’s accelerating.
Consider too, that in the age of Leveson, a more button-upped Sunday tabloid will have lost the shock appeal on the news-stand it once had.
The buzz around the first issue will help Murdoch towards his personal target but once things settle into the weekly routine, will the Sun on Sunday really be able to hit 2.5 million, or more?
Regardless, our own Peter Wilby believes the shareholders at News Corp are playing a longer game that ends in the sale of Murdoch’s UK newspapers. In the current New Statesman, Wilby writes:
A successful launch of the Sun on Sunday ensures a higher sale price.