Murdoch claims 3m sales for "fearless" Sunday's Sun

Rupert Murdoch, chief executive and chairman of News Corporation, has claimed three million copies of the UK's first Sunday edition of The Sun were sold yesterday (26 February).

Murdoch launches Sunday edition of Sun 43 years on
Murdoch launches Sunday edition of Sun 43 years on

The first national newspaper to launch in the UK since Alexander Lebedev introduced the Independent’s 20p i in October 2010, arrived just 10 days after being announced by Murdoch.  

The soon to be 81-year-old media magnate was present with The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, at a printer’s in Hertfordshire as the first copies rolled off the presses late Saturday night.

News International arranged for the distribution of photos of the occasion to be sent with one from the day Murdoch first re-branded and launched The Sun in 1969.
   
At around 8.30pm last night (26 February), Murdoch tweeted: "Reports early, but new Sun edition sold 3m!"

On Friday (24 Februrary), Murdoch had confided: "I will be very happy at anything substantially over two million!".

His sales claims are too early to be verified and will be met with scepticism from some quarters. Although early indications suggest the paper sold well, the facts remains unclear. Even late last night, News International was still pointedly refusing to reveal what the initial print run of the new tabloid had been yesterday.

Last Monday (20 February), Campaign reported that up to 3.2 million copies were expected to be printed. As the week progressed the figure was pared down to around 2.5 million copies by News International insiders and media agencies involved.

Whether this was to manage wider market expectations or reflected Murdoch’s own expectations remains unknown, but clearly such reports were inaccurate according to the latest three million sales claim.

Yesterday's 50p tabloid newspaper launched with an "exclusive" interview with Amanda Holden’s "nightmare birth ordeal" on its front cover.

The same story with the same "My heart stopped for 40 seconds" quote also appeared on later editions of rival Sunday Mirror’s front page, which also slashed its own cover price to just 50p, along with fellow redtops Daily Star Sunday and People.

Since the closure of News International's last Sunday tabloid News of the World last summer, the remaining newspapers have enjoyed a boom in both readers and advertising expenditure.

Sunday's Sun at a glance

At 92 pages, The Sun on Sunday did ensure it was larger than any of its competitors. It also included 64 pages of Fabulous magazine, the former News of the World supplement that had moved to Saturday Sun’s following last summer’s closure.

The speed with which decisions had been made at Wapping were evident in the Saturday date (25 February) on the front of the handbag-sized supplement.

However, the fashion and beauty-led magazine edited by Rachel Richardson provided a vital outlet for any brands hoping to target female readers on a Sunday. Its glossy, colour pages worked well for the likes of Nivea, Boots and Veet, as well as more general fare from Toyota, Warbutons and Aqua Pura.

The Sun newspaper itself is decidedly more male skewed, with its masthead including Sun Sport’s star football signings, Jose Mourinho, Van Persie and Roy Keane.  

In terms of advertising, many of The Sun’s perennial big spenders were present, including ads from News Corp-owned Sky and Twentieth Century Fox.

By far the biggest commercial support came from supermarket Morrisons, which took six full pages of ads in The Sun on Sunday.

Other brands represented included the energy companies British Gas and Scottish Power, retailers Dfs, CarpetRight, Harveys, Sports Direct, Boots, Dreams, SCS, M&S and Iceland.

The financial sector brought in advertising spend from Halifax, beer had Carling, confectionery KitKat (Nestle), and telecoms had Three, Talk, Talk and O2.

Gambling generated spend from Ladbrokes and Coral, motors had Kia while travel and leisure brought Bmi, Butlins, Park Resorts, Cruise Deals.

Other advertisers included Weight Watchers, Toby Carvery, Virgin Media, Uncle Ben’s (Mars Inc), Live Nation, World Rugby Union and ScrewFix.

Most of News of the World’s former biggest spending advertisers were represented in yesterday’s first issue of The Sun, although notable exceptions included Procter & Gamble, Asda and Vodafone.
 
Alex Altman, chief executive of IPG’s Initiative, applauded the "safe launch". He said: "It looks like The Sun, which is what was intended. In that respect a safe launch but I still applaud the desire to launch a new paper. I believe it is Rupert Muroch’s first ever national UK launch [The Sun was rebranded and others have been acquired or regional].

"As we talk more and more about newspaper brands, rather than just the print versions, having The Sun seven days a week is easier to manage as a brand and invest in than The Sun for six days and News of the World on a Sunday.

"I see no reason why Sunday’s Sun can’t sell the same as it does Monday to Saturday, which is around the three million mark, and entirely realistic. Ultimately, advertisers will support it based on numbers and profile."

Widely speculated but ultimately unexpected

This time two weeks ago all the speculation was on whether Murdoch was going to close, sell or further restrict operations at The Sun as his trip to London became known following the arrests of five senior journalists at the paper.  

In what was quickly dubbed a "crisis meeting", staff were reported to be close to revolting amid accusations they were being sold out by News International.

Daren Rubins, chief executive of Omnicom's PHD, said: "So 231 days after closing an institution, the seventh day issue of the Sun launched with a confidence few would have imagined last July.

"To a certain set of retailers, this is a very welcome and timely addition to their Sunday schedules. Others will be taking their time to assess the numbers and environment, not to mention the outcome of the latest allegations.

"But overall, News International should be relieved to have got themselves back into a market they are passionate about, without any real controversy or backlash. The product itself? With 39 pages of football, it worked for me."

Steve Hatch, chief executive of MEC, called the speed with which the Sunday's Sun launched "a classic masterstroke, with all the hallmarks of vintage Murdoch".

He added: "Right in the face of adversity, 80 year old Murdoch said I’ll see you and I’ll raise you, and you have to respect him for that. He caught everyone on the hop, including all his rivals."

Hatch, the leader of one Sir Martin Sorrell’s leading GroupM agencies, added: "I’m getting the sense that this is not being viewed by advertisers as another News of the World in sheep’s clothing.

"This is another edition of The Sun, so those who already advertised in the UK’s largest selling newspaper are unlikely to have issues advertising in this, if it fits in with their marketing plans of course."

In terms of editorial there was distinct lack of the mud-raking and speculation that had come to define News International’s previous Sunday tabloid, News of the World.

In another clear attempt to make the newspaper more family-friendly, The Sun’s infamous topless page 3 had been toned down, with a naked Kelly Rowland from the X Factor snapped cupping her breasts and hiding her nipples.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade called the new paper "bland" and told BBC Radio 4 it read more like a cross between Hello! and Take A Break magazines due to its "soft focus".

Such views jarred with the paper’s own editorial, in which it promised to be "fearless, outspoken, mischievous and fun".

Despite the lack of celebrity scandal, the new launch was not without its controversy. The Sun on Sunday's new political columnist Toby Young has already found himself in the firing line after referring to News of the World’s alleged hacking of Milly Dowler's phone as "that murdered schoolgirl thing" yesterday.

During a Twitter spat with Graham Linehan, the writer behind Channel 4’s IT Crowd, Young defended his involvement with News International’s latest newspaper launch, by saying: "That murdered schoolgirl thing? Check the Guardian story. Turned out to be balls. Get off your high horse."

Solicitor Mark Lewis, representing the Dowler family, said: "I do not intend to dignify his comment by saying why it was wrong. If that is the standard of journalism at The Sun on Sunday then it seems that they have learnt nothing from the past."

Follow Arif Durrani on Twitter: @DurraniMix

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