The Sun claims to have overtaken the Daily Mirror to be the UK’s “second-most read” newspaper online. However, figures cited by Trinity Mirror show that the Sun’s milestone only stands because it compared its portfolio of titles and then measured the inflated figure against the Mirror's standalone newspaper site in the UK.
The Sun said that according to Comscore data for January 2017 it clocked up a total digital audience of 25.4 million unique visitors across the month in Britain, just below the Mail Online at 29.3 million, and above the Mirror at 23.8 million.
However, the News UK-owned paper didn't indicate that the figure included online readership numbers for a pool of associated sites including DreamTeamFC.com (which has 1.2 million users per month) and Club950.co.uk.
As such, the numbers reflect the Sun Online's entire digital audience against the Mirror's core news platform and its Irish sister site, which reached a combined 23.8 million against the Sun's 11-strong title portfolio.
According to a source at Trinity Mirror, the data at a national newspaper level, ie mirror.co.uk against thesun.co.uk, shows that the Mirror still placed comfortably ahead, attracting 23.6 million visitors against the Sun's 20.0 million unique readers.
Since ditching its paywall in 2015 and overhauling its website last summer, the Sun has made no secret of its ambitions to tie its growth plans to UK borders. Speaking to The Drum's media columnist Ian Burrell last June, News UK chief operating ofﬁcer David Dinsmore said: "We have come to the conclusion that we should focus really heavily on the UK first of all. Let’s get that sorted out. Before we go massively outwith our borders let’s understand what it is we are going to go with."
Tony Gallagher, editor-in-chief of The Sun, said the Sun was "especially pleased" with its "brilliant" figures.
"This exceptional achievement demonstrates the enduring power of The Sun brand in paper and online, and the hard work and skill of the team we have put together," he added, claiming it was a "huge tribute" to staff that the Daily Mirror was "trailing" in its wake.
However, The Drum understands that none of the Sun's rival news sites group their digital properties together in the same way the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid does, making like-for-like comparisons between the top competitors on monthly reports difficult.
In terms of overall UK news website traffic for last month, the BBC retained the top spot, reaching almost 40 million unique readers. The Guardian and the Independent/Evening Standard (which are counted together by Comscore) placed similarly with 22.6 million and 22 million respectively.
The Sun racked up a loss of over £60m in 2016 on the back of declining print newspaper ad spend and phone hacking charges. The cumulative effect of these saw total revenues at the paper decline to £446m from £456m in the year to 3 July.
However, the figures represented an improvement on the £79m loss recorded in 2015, thanks mainly to a reduction in charges associated with the hacking scandal from £65m in 2015 to £30m in 2016.
Correction: This story was updated at 16.00 on 20 February to reflect Comscore's methodology and the impact this had on the Sun's original claims