Waitrose is to axe its free newspaper offer on 22 February in a move expected to severely impact broadsheet newspaper sales.

The supermarket had previously allowed its seven million MyWaitrose card holders to receive a free newspaper of their choice when spending £10 in store. However, a message sent out by the supermarket to shoppers on 2 February said the deal was to end to be replaced by ‘something even better.’

One newspaper publisher source previously told RN that Waitrose free newspaper redemptions accounted for ‘up to 10%’ of some titles’ weekend copy sales.

Asked about the impact of Waitrose’s decision, another newspaper industry insider said: “Weekend [MyWaitose paper pick-ups] are massive, especially for the Mail, Telegraph and Sunday Times, and Monday-Friday pick-ups aren’t to be sniffed at either… This will be a dagger to the last remaining guaranteed volume drivers for publishers in retail (outside of bulks).

“Back when the myWaitrose deal started it helped all publishers maintain circulation, but the challenge was always overlapping year on year results. Waitrose store numbers softened and so did shopper participation, I think it’s been stale for a while.”

In a well-used ABC loophole, the cost of the ‘free’ Waitrose newspaper was actually discounted from the rest of the shopper’s basket, so the free copies were registered with auditors as paid single copy sales. This meant the Waitrose offer significantly bolstered many newsbrands’ performance to advertisers.

The scheme has long been a source of upset for nearby newsagents who reported losing sales due to being unable to compete with ‘free’ newspapers.

NFRN national president Narinder Randhawa agreed: “The free newspaper offer has long been a bone of contention with independent news retailers, as it has cannibalised sales.

“The announcement that Waitrose’s is scrapping its free newspapers later this month should provide retailers in the vicinity of its stores an excellent opportunity to pick up more casual sales.  We will be encouraging members in those areas to ensure their newspapers are prominently displayed at point of sale and, if possible, on their shop counters too.”

“The NFRN’s news department will also be working with news wholesalers to ensure that members have extra copies to enable them to capitalise on this exciting opportunity.”

The message from Waitrose to myWaitrose members said that the free newspaper offer would be replaced by ‘personalised offers, chosen just for you’.  These include members-only prices on products, discounted Waitrose Cookery school classes and free copies of Waitrose’s three in-house magazines.