THE Audit Bureau of Circulations today confirmed it was investigating the bulk sales component of national newspapers sales figures.
Publishing its monthly circulation statistics for February, ABC carried a note on page two of the report stating: "Airline copies are as claimed by the publisher and are subject to further verification."
MediaGuardian.co.uk revealed yesterday that the ABC was to hold a "forensic review" of bulks – the copies newspaper groups sell for a nominal fee to airlines, rail firms, hotels, gyms and fast food restaurants, which they give away for free. Newspapers can include bulk distribution in their headline circulation totals.
It is believed that the problem came to light after ABC carried out a spot check on multiple sales copies sent to airlines. According to one senior newspaper executive, the checkers found a wide disparity between the claimed distribution figure and the reality. Other aspects of bulks sales are not believed to be affected.
Airline bulk sales make up a significant part of the circulations of several national newspapers, including the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph.
Telegraph Media Group's daily title distributed 112,004 copies as bulk sales last month, 94,579 through airlines.
Of the Daily Mail's 128,996 bulks, 108,678 come from airport sales and the Mail on Sunday distributed 111,867 of 130,365 bulks in this manner.
Of the Observer's 23,571 bulks, 21,410 were sold to airlines, while at the Guardian 12,454 of 14,723 bulks were distributed to airlines. Guardian News & Media, which prints both titles, also publishes MediaGuardian.co.uk.
Newspaper groups can sell bulk copies for as little as 1p each.
ABC said 67.5% of the average daily national newspaper bulk distribution of 391,126 copies in February were bulk copies sold to airlines. The figures were even more marked on Sundays, with 207,458 newspapers distributed as bulks, and 72.9% going to airlines.
How many bulks did they sell?
Mail on Sunday: 130,365 (111,867 through airlines)
Daily Mail: 128,996 (108,678)
Daily Telegraph: 112,004 (94,579)
Sunday Telegraph: 68,271 (51,280)
The Times: 54,891 (21,886)
The Independent: 41,553 (3,367)
Independent on Sunday: 39,295 (3,898)
Financial Times: 32,699 (19,470)
Observer: 23,571 (21,140)
Sunday Times: 20,264 (17,353)
Guardian: 14,723 (12,454)
The following papers did not distribute any bulks, according to ABC: the Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Daily Star, the Sun, Sunday Express, the People, Sunday Mirror, News of the World and the Daily Star Sunday.