Vibrant, varied and still going strong – a guide to UK newspaper audiences

It’s all about the audience. That’s the message we’re constantly putting across to the delegates on our media training courses. If you’re coming to do a media interview you need to be absolutely clear about who you’re talking to. While broadcasters have obligations to remain impartial, newspapers have very few such constraints and each of our national newspapers has its own idiosyncratic style that is undiminished – and perhaps even enhanced – by declining sales.

This means that in print even more than broadcast the messages, language and examples that you might use when talking to the Daily Mail, for instance, would be very different from those that are relevant to the FT. Similarly what might work for Health Service Journal will be completely wrong for the Manchester Evening News. It can be even more subtle. If you work for a pharma company, for instance, you’d want to say one thing when talking to the health editor of the Guardian but something slightly different if you’re being interviewed by the paper’s business editor.

Here’s a brief guide to the audiences of some of the newspapers in the UK, in order of readership (figures as at March 2015)

The Sun

Love or it loathe it, this is still one of the most influential newspapers in Britain. Over 5million of us read it every day, including nearly 2million in the ABC1 socioeconomic group – so don’t assume that all Sun readers are chavs! Its website has over a million unique visitors every day and 843,000 of those will be viewing in on a mobile device – one of the highest. The reading age (in other words the age at which someone should be able to read it) is between seven and nine.

The Daily Mail

Highly controversial but highly successful, the Mail has very effectively focussed on young women and looked at health and beauty, personal finance and celebrities – much as its founder decided when it was founded in 1896. Nearly 4million people read it every day – more than half of whom are women (very unusual among newspapers). Its website is now the most viewed newspaper website in the world, having overtaken the New York Times a few years ago.

The Daily Mirror

The workers’ paper and the Labour party’s most loyal supporter, the Daily Mirror was overtaken by the Mail several years ago but still has a readership of over 2million. Surprisingly over 700,000 of these fall into the ABC1 grouping. Slightly less driven by show biz than the Sun, it’s still true to its roots as a left of centre, campaigning newspaper.

The Evening Standard

As the local paper for the capital the Standard has a national newspaper status. It's fortunes have risen since it went free and it mixes serious social issues with stories about the metropolitan glitterati, often featuring Evgeny Lebedev, who happens to own the paper. Readership has moved gently upwards over the last few years to reach nearly 2million with more than half of these in the ABC1 class.

The Daily Telegraph

The biggest selling quality newspaper, the Telegraph has a readership of just over 1million. Readers tend to be older and conservative and often living in the country. The paper regards itself as the favoured journal of the Church of England, tutting when the Archbishop and church leaders stray to the left. It has recently undergone a period of fierce infighting as it has attempted, somewhat uncharacteristically, to boost its online presence but this seems to have settled down now.

The Times

Officially the paper of record, The Times has a readership of around 1million, almost all of whom are in the ABC1 bracket. Attempting to capitalise on its predominately male readership, it often takes a man’s point of view in its features with stories about men’s health, psychology and what some have called the crisis of masculinity. The paper is still widely respected for its extensive business coverage.

The Guardian

The keeper of the flame of the intellectual left, the Guardian is the paper of choice of teachers, healthcare workers and those in local government. Its public sector jobs advertising still dwarfs that of its rivals. Readership is around 800,000 but, thanks to its pay wall-free presence, it counts as one of the most viewed media sites in the world with nearly 10million unique visitors a day.


Who would have guessed that there’d be a market for a pared down quality paper? Since its launched 2010 the Independent’s little sister has seen readership reach a solid 500,000. Readers tend to be younger, metropolitan types including a number of students and those in their first jobs, especially women.

The Daily Express

With a circulation falling faster than almost any other newspaper, the once proud Daily Express is down to around 750,000. Its audience is elderly but not impoverished and mainly based in the north. Still very right wing in its outlook anything to do with migrants, pensions or the weather is perennially popular.

The Independent

A softer left version than the Guardian, which was, after all partly its raison d’etre when it launched in 1986, the Independent is now part of the group owned by Alexander Lebedev but it maintains its own style. Its audience is London based and intellectual – something that is reflected in its tendency to feature comment and personal views rather than very much news.

The Financial Times

The readership of “the pink ‘un” might be around 300,000 but this relatively small group are very valuable. They’re affluent, intelligent and, according to the old cliché about newspapers, they’re the ones who own the country. The FT has also been very successful with its online offering, charging more than any other UK newspaper but enjoying a readership of around 400,000, most of whom are mobile users. Generally, the paper has an ABC1 male readership based in London. Despite the complexity of some of the issues that it covers, it’s worth noting that its reading age is around 12-14.

The Sun on Sunday

The phoenix that arose from the ashes of the News of the World, the Sun on Sunday has seamlessly inherited the older, London-based male audience of its predecessor. With a readership of around 3million celebrities, exposés and football are still the order of the day.

The Sunday Times

Big, brash and the dominant player in the Sunday quality market, The Sunday Times has a readership of around 800,000. Known for its exposés and its business coverage it has recently tried to appeal to female audiences, both with its Style section and also with more stories related to health, beauty and social and family issues. Anything to do with aspiration and advancement ranging from property to education is good for The Sunday Times.

The Sunday Telegraph

With a readership of just over 400,000 the Sunday Telegraph is even more conservative and traditional than its weekly counterpart. Alongside investigative stories by Andrew Gilligan are jolly features about the countryside and issues affecting the middle classes. Its business coverage is well respected and its comment pages are favoured by the intellectual right.

Mail on Sunday

The paper, which regards itself as reaching “the heart of middle England,” has a readership of around 3million. Like most Sunday newspapers it relies on a mix of exposés and publicist placed celebrity stories. Features about health and beauty aimed at women are always prominent, as is the case with its sister paper during the week.

Sunday People

Half its audience are 65 and over and around a quarter live in the Midlands and the Sunday People has struggled to keep going alongside the other Sunday tabloids. On the left of the political spectrum, it relies on human interest stories and celebrity interviews.

Sunday Mirror

With a readership of around 2.5million the Sunday Mirror is one of the most successful of the Sunday papers, gaining readers shortly after the demise of the News of the World. It’s respected among journalists for scoops such as the death of Ian Brady and his resuscitation against his will. It also ran a campaign to make Twitter take action to prevent paedophiles from using the service to exchange obscene images.

The Observer

As with its daily sister title, the Guardian, the Observer is the preferred paper of the dinner partying left. Stories about social justice and women’s issues plus its extensive arts coverage could be why it has such an appeal for a middle class female audience. It has fared the worst in the decline of the quality Sunday newspaper market with readership falling to reach around 200,000.

Figures gathered from the Audited Bureau of Circulation and Newsworks

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