The UK is characterised by a comparatively large national press with 11 national daily newspapers, and 10 Sunday sister titles (this is more than France, Germany and USA). Seven of these titles publish special editions for Scotland, and these compete with three Scottish dailies. National newspapers are typically divided into three sectors which relate to their physical size, as well as the quantity of news, values and quality of content: broadsheet (also known as quality), mid-market, and tabloid. The mid-market papers of the Daily Mail and Daily Express share a tabloid size with the ‘red-top’ tabloids The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and the Daily Star. Until the early 2000’s all broadsheets were printed in a large format hence the name broadsheet. The Independent was the first to break with tradition and reduced the size of the paper to a more manageable ‘compact’ format. It was closely followed by the Times in 2003. Until very recently the Guardian was the odd one out with a ‘Berliner’ size, but changed to tabloid format in 2018. These changes are indicative of savings associated with print costs rather than any changes in the journalistic values of the papers.

The traditionally very strong daily paid circulation of national newspapers has been in steady decline for some time, although online readerships are rising. Print newspapers are read by 1 in 4 adults over 15 every day (13.6 million daily) and reach larger audiences weekly (24.9 million) and monthly (30.8 million). Print Circulation has fallen approximately 40 percent between 2010 and 2018. In 2010 the national papers sold an average of 9.5 m copies each day. Adding the freesheets of the Metro, London Evening Standard and City AM adds approximately another 2m to make a total of 11.5m. By January 2018 paid circulation had fallen to 5.65m for the main national dailies, and to a total of 8.1m when the circulation of freesheets is included. Traditionally Sunday titles have been very popular with a combined circulation in 2015 of 6.16m. However, this had fallen to 4.7m in 2018.

ABC figures for the beginning of 2018 show that the downward trend in print readership is affecting the popular (tabloid) and mid-market sectors the most and that the once stable rankings of the broadsheets are in flux. Circulation of the market leader the Sun is down 7.7 percent to 1,545,594; the Daily Mail is down 11.13 percent to 1,343,142; the Daily Mirror is down 19.55 percent to 583,192; the Daily Star is down 11.61 percent to 391,988; the Express is down 7.08 percent to 364,721. The picture in the broadsheet market is more mixed, with smaller declines, and the rise of Saturday newspapers at the expense of the once traditionally strong Sunday titles. The Times faired best with a decreased circulation of 2.37 percent to 440,558; the Daily Telegraph lost its hold as market leader and was down by 18.4 percent to 385,346; and the Guardian fell by 2.58 percent to 152,714. Sunday mid-market papers and tabloids fell between 6.45 percent and 19.45 percent. With the exception of the Sunday Telegraph which fell by 16.88 percent, the Sunday broadsheets saw smaller declines of 2.7 percent for the Times and 4.87 percent for the Observer (the Sunday version of the Guardian).

Printed circulation figures are no longer a reliable way of measuring the reach of newspapers due to the rise in readers accessing news via digital platforms. Although the variety of different measurement systems for digital audiences in use makes comparisons difficult, it is clear that many newspapers are successfully growing their audiences online. A market report produced for the News Media Association in 2016 illustrated that reader habits are changing with the digital audiences of many newspapers now larger than print audiences – see data below. 75 percent of adults read newspapers online every month and digital platforms boost a newspaper’s print readership by an average of 38 percent. With the exception of the Mail Online, digital readership is showing significant increases year on year (2017 to 2018) for most newspapers. ABC figures from the beginning of 2018 show the percentage increases in total daily average unique browsers up for all papers with the exception of the market leading Mail Online: Mail Online, 13,738,436 down 12.17%; Trinity Mirror Group (Digital) 10,112,183, up 6.53%; The Sun, 5,273,610 up 24.15%; The Independent (online only) 5,026,018, up 4.04%; Metro 2,561,846, up 61.04%; Evening Standard, 944,143 up 42.01 percent.

The UK national newspaper market is highly concentrated. Three companies dominated the market in 2015 accounting for 71 percent of circulation. In 2015 two companies, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail Group, accounted for nearly 60 percent of national newspaper circulation. The picture differs slightly if we include online and mobile readers. The strong online reach of the Daily Mail Group makes it the most dominant, closely followed by Trinity Mirror and the Guardian which have strong online readerships. In terms of concentration, data shows that five companies account for 80 percent of all consumption, online and offline. The following is a list of ownership of the national daily and Sunday newspapers. It includes data from the latest Media Reform Coalition report (2015) to show the market share of each ownership group first by print circulation and then by combined print, online and mobile readership:

  • DMG media/Associated Newspapers – Daily Mail, Metro, Mail on Sunday; 33.6 percent / 20.1 percent.
  • Guardian News & Media Ltd – Guardian and Observer; 2.5 percent / 15 percent.
  • ESI Media – London Evening Standard and the Independent (online only since 2016); 4.5 percent / 9.5 percent.
  • News Corp UK and Ireland Ltd – The Sun, The Sun on Sunday, The Times, The Sunday Times; 33.6 percent / 13.7 percent.
  • Telegraph Media Group Ltd– The Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph; 7 percent / 14.1 percent.
  • Trinity Mirror plc – Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The Sunday People; 13.6 percent / 16.3 percent.
  • Northern and Shell Media Group - The Daily Express, The Sunday Express, The Daily Star, The Daily Star on Sunday (sale to the Mirror group by Northern & Shell going through in February 2018); 12.1 percent/11.3 percent.
  • Johnston Press –The i. Data not available.
  • Nikkei Inc. – The Financial Times; 2.6 percent/not available.

The local press in the UK has a strong albeit declining print readership. It is not a major agenda setter but has traditionally played an important role in reporting on local authorities and courts due to the regional remit of local television and radio news. According to the News Media Association in 2016 print and online editions of local newspapers were read by 40 million people a week, with 28 million people saying they frequently read their local newspaper. Like their national counterparts, paid print circulation of local and regional newspapers is in decline with weekly circulation falling approximately 11.2 percent between 2016 and 2017. The trend for increases in digital readers seen in the national press is also replicated locally but is not yet consistent across the country and is not enough to offset the losses from falling print circulation. Digital editions of local and regional papers are accessed for free and have not yet succeeded in attracting digital advertising at levels to offset losses in print advertising. An example of the proportions of revenue from print (cover price plus advertising) and digital (advertising) for one of the largest local newspaper owners, Johnston Press, illustrates the fall in overall revenue as well as the relatively small increases in digital revenue. In 2010 the overall revenue of £350.8m was divided between £332.5 million print revenue and £18.3m digital. By 2015 overall revenue had fallen by 37 percent to £221.1m divided between £190.5m print revenue and £30.6m digital.

Many local newspapers have either closed or moved from daily to weekly publication creating news vacuums. 273 out 406 Local Authority Districts (LADs) in the UK do not have a daily local newspaper. The local and regional newspaper market is highly concentrated. The five largest publishers account for 77.1 percent of all local newspapers in the UK – Trinity Mirror (226 titles); Johnston Press (213 titles); Newsquest (211 titles); Tindle (126 titles) and Archant (75 titles). The strategies of the five dominant publishers to merge operations have resulted in major job losses (418 between November 2015 and March 2017), office closures, and the physical relocation of staff to places away from the localities they cover. Approximately 200 local newspapers have closed since 2005 and the number of journalists employed by local papers has halved. Many daily titles have been reduced to weekly publication.

Despite increases in audiences boosted by digital readers, the newspaper industry has continued to experience falling revenues over the past decade. The funding model of the press is under threat due to consistent falls in circulation, drops in advertising revenue reflecting the shift of advertising spend to online media and the recent dominance of technology companies such as Google and Facebook over online spending (estimated to account for 75 percent of all new online advertising spending in 2015). Digital audiences are not yet yielding the same revenues as print audiences and cannot make up for the losses. Average annual revenue per print media user is estimated at c. £124, while revenue per digital media user is estimated at c. £15.5.

At the time of writing the UK government had announced a review into sustainability of national, regional and local press. This is in addition to the new BBC scheme to invest up to £8m annually in Local News Partnerships during the next nine years in an effort to support local journalism. The scheme includes a Shared Data Unit, and a facility allowing local news providers access to relevant regional BBC video and audio content. It also funds the recruitment of nearly 150 local democracy reporters whose work reporting on local councils and public institutions will be shared among over 700 local news providers who have signed up to the scheme (mainly local newspapers).