The National Readership Survey's PADD report for 2012 covers January to December and tracks the Daily Mail brand being read by more than 20 million people a month (20,018,000), compared to 17,418,000 for The Sun.
It is the first time the UK's biggest selling newspaper, The Sun – with its 15,213,000 monthly print readers – has had its reach surpassed by Associated's mid-market Daily Mail brand, which has a print readership of 13,951,000 a month.
It follows a year of strong growth for the Daily Mail's website, Mail Online, and also one of continued falls in print sales for The Sun.
However, a change in data providers means any further direct comparisons with previous years cannot be made. NRS PADD is now fusing to comScore website audience data, rather than the Nielsen estimates used for the previous three releases of NRS PADD in 2012.
Elsewhere, the readership figures in 2012 held more worrying trends for The Sun's owner News International. Its 228-year-old quality title, The Times, is found to be read by fewer people than any other national general news brand, with a combined print and digital readership of 5,506,000.
This compares to more than 12 million (12,729,000) weekday readers for The Guardian, 11,992,000 million for The Daily Telegraph, and 6,336,000 for The Independent. Even London's Evening Standard was found to have a bigger readership than The Times, with 5,876,000.
The readership trends confirm the impact News International's paywall has had on The Time's reach, with some media agencies and brands already raising concerns about the impact this smaller readership is likely to be having on advertising campaigns.
From an editorial point of view, there will also be concerns about the perceived correlation between "reach" and "influence", which is only exacerbated when social media is taken into account. Currently, articles in The Times are not shared around social media networks as they are locked behind a paywall.
For its part, News International has invested heavily in propriety research into how people are consuming the brands products, and maintain, among other things, that subscribers value the content far more than casual browsers to open sites.
Senior commercial executives at News International also remain convinced that financially, its brands remain in far better health than many of its rivals, most notably The Guardian, which is hoping to cut into more than £40m-worth of annual losses in its next financial report.
The latest figures do underline the popularity of newsbrands and their relevance to consumers, despite the well-documented digital transition and changing consumption habits.
In the quality sector in particular, readerships are significantly boosted by website users, with all of the open sites enjoying lifts between 59% and 188%.
The only newspaper brand not to enjoy at least double-digit boosts to total readership figures from its website – outside of News International – was Northern & Shell's Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, which saw a 9.3% lift from online.
|Print (000s)||Website Only (000s)||Net Print + Website Total (Net - 000s)||Increase with Online (%)|
|The Daily Telegraph||4,170||7,822||11,992||+187.6|
|The Daily Telegraph/The Sunday Telegraph||4,881||7,614||12,495||+156.0|
|The Guardian/The Observer||4,969||8,184||13,153||+164.7|
|The Independent/The Independent on Sunday||3,560||3,291||6,851||+92.4|
|The Independent/The Independent on Sunday/i||5,206||3,094||8,300||+59.4|
|The Times/The Sunday Times||7,174||501||7,675||+7.0|
|Daily Express/Sunday Express||4,485||480||4,965||+10.7|
|Daily Mail/The Mail on Sunday||13,951||8,068||22,019||+57.8|
|Daily Mirror/Sunday Mirror||9,996||2,665||12,660||+26.7|
|Daily Mirror/Sunday Mirror/The People||10,639||2,640||13,279||+24.8|
|Daily Record/Sunday Mail||2,024||802||2,826||+39.6|
|Daily Star/Daily Star Sunday||4,408||412||4,821||+9.3|
|(Dundee) Courier and Advertiser||273||53||326||+19.2|
|London Evening Standard||4,822||1,054||5,876||+21.9|
|The Herald/Sunday Herald||507||329||836||+64.8|
|The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday||592||524||1,116||+88.4|
There are often considerable differences between the website estimates produced by comScore and Nielsen, which make it inappropriate to compare the two. This is because there are differences in the methodology and definitions used by each company. For example, Nielsen and comScore use different methodologies to combine panel and site-centric data in order to create their "hybrid" estimates