Under the deal, more than six million MyWaitrose members can receive a free newspaper when they spend more than £10 in store.

However, because the deal discounts the shopping, not the newspaper,  the free papers manipulate publishers’ paid-for sales recorded by the Audit Bureau for Circulations (ABC).

A senior source at a national publisher told RN: “Waitrose first introduced the offer to build up its membership proposition, and it’s been a blessing and a curse for publishers. Now that it has achieved its membership objectives, they’ll be looking at the future of  the scheme.”

Earlier this year, the supermarket announced other cuts to its membership rewards, including ending its free coffee offer and 20% discount scheme. 

The source alleged Waitrose’s free newspaper volumes account for more than 10% of some titles’ paid-for circulation in multiples. 

Following Aldi’s decision to stop selling newspapers last month, another industry expert told RN that ending the Waitrose offer could “change the balance of power” in news retailing by increasing the market share of the category held by independent stores.

Asked to confirm whether it plans to continue the free newspaper offer, a Waitrose spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on speculation, but our newspaper offer remains an important benefit of the MyWaitrose scheme and is highly valued by our customers.” 

A separate MyWait-rose offer, which comes following the Telegraph’s move to become the first national title to give store owners less than a 20% margin in February, sees customers that select a free copy of the Telegraph given a free 30-day online subscription to the newspaper.