Sir Martin Sorrell has thrown his support behind the launch of a Sun on Sunday to bolster the weekend newspaper market.
Sorrell, the chief executive of marketing services company WPP, believes that the Sunday newspaper market has suffered from the closure of the News of the World, in a move by publisher News International to draw a line under the phone-hacking scandal.
However, it is thought that News International is unlikely to launch a Sunday version of the Sun to replace the News of the World until early 2012 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Associated Newspapers is thought likely to look again in October at plans to launch a new downmarket tabloid sister title to its Mail on Sunday.
“News of the World falling out of the bed has given opportunities to others, that is clear,” he said. “[But] it doesn’t help the Sunday market.”
The closure of the title on 10 July removed more than a quarter of the total sales of Sunday newspapers. The News of the World’s official circulation at the time was 2.67m – which one analyst compared to the market impact of switching off Channel 4 on a Sunday.
Rival Sunday tabloids have added about 2m in circulation collectively since the NoW’s closure, meaning that about 700,000 Sunday paper sales have disappeared from the market since its demise.
“I’d like to see a Sun on Sunday come in but they will have to wait,” added Sorrell. “Without News of the World the market doesn’t have enough competition, enough alternatives, we miss that. That is what my people tell me.”
By “people” Sorrell is referring to the array of WPP-owned media buying agencies, which purchase advertising on behalf of clients. The total UK newspaper advertising market, including regional titles, is worth about £2.7bn annually.
With WPP’s media agencies controlling as much as 35% of the UK press advertising market an endorsement by Sorrell will give a boost to News International, which looked at launching a Sunday version of the Sun to replace the News of the World in July but is believed to have shelved the plan for now.
According to one source, senior NI executives consider the current period to be a “time for atonement”, with early 2012 now seen as the earliest likely time for a new launch.
“They have missed the booking cycle for Christmas now, if they were to do it with the market on their side they’d have to target something like April,” said one newspaper industry veteran. “But by then would it be too late?”
Associated Newspapers got as far as printing dummies for a new Sunday tabloid in July. But according to one source Associated’s plans were put on the back burner while it waited to see how Sunday tabloid market circulation played out over the summer following the NoW’s closure.
With the August school holidays traditionally a weak period for sales, it is understood thatthe MoS decided to wait until after September to make a decision.
After initially seeing sales rocket to 2.4m – from a pre-NoW closure rate of about 1.9m – the MoS has fallen back to just under 2m, relinquishing practically all of its gains. The title is also yet to return to full price of £1.50, remaining at £1.30 everywhere except Scotland.
The other Sunday tabloids – the Sunday Mirror, People, Sunday Express and Daily Star Sunday – have put on almost 2m copies between them.
While the People and the Sunday Mirror have returned to full price, parent company Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) is still spending heavily on advertising to maintain the sales boost.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.