Has Rupert Murdoch lost his legendary golden touch? The question needs to be asked as a result of the slow collapse of sales of The Sun on Sunday, the new UK Sunday newspaper Mr Murdoch introduced to replace the closed and discredited News of The World.

The Sun on Sunday’s first edition appeared on February 26, 2012 and had sales of 3.22 million in its opening weeks. “Amazing! The Sun confirmed sale of 3.260,000 copies yesterday,” Murdoch tweeted at his official @rupertmurdoch account. “Thanks all readers and advertisers. Sorry if sold out – more next time”.

There was no such tweet last October when it was revealed that the average sales of the paper had fallen before 2 million, or last week when it was revealed that in its first year, The Sun on Sunday had shed more than 40% of its opening sales.

According to the latest circulation figures for February this year, released last Friday in London, the paper’s sales had fallen to 1.912 million, or 40% lower than the first month. The Sun on Sunday‘s sales are also 700,000 below the 2.6 million the defunct News of the World sold in June 2011, just before it was closed by Rupert Murdoch because of the phone hacking scandal by.

The weakness for The Sun on Sunday is bad news for News ahead of the split in there Murdoch empire in the next few months into the “bad” publishing arm (to be called News Corp) and “good” company, Fox Group, which will contain the US broadcast and content companies, and stakes in similar businesses in the UK, Europe and Asia, but not Australia. The Sun is the profit driver for the UK papers of the new News Corp, so the slide in its sales is starting to become important. Circulation revenues are under pressure as a result of the slide and that for the Sun on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the new News Corp has a curious view on what constitutes one of its key newspapers. In the second information document filed with US regulators late last Friday, the company revealed that it doesn’t think The Australian newspaper is among the key brands in its news and information group, saying in the filing:

The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires and Factiva, Herald Sun in Australia, The Sun and The Times in the U.K. and News America Marketing Group.”

The Daily Telegraph in Sydney should also feel miffed — at least they make a profit compared to the OZ’s losses. And what about the biggest selling newspaper in Australia, the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney? By the way, the document contains the statement that in Australia, News’ papers account for more than 63% of the total circulation of newspapers in Australia.

And founder Rupert Murdoch was up to his old tricks of selecting quoting facts to suit himself in a puff piece published in The Weekend Australian. In it Rupert Murdoch. spoke glowingly about how well The Wall Street Journal had done, compared to The New York Times:

“But he pointed to News Corp’s success with The Wall Street Journal, where paper and digital circulation has held steady at two million readers since the venerable publication was acquired in 2007. During the same period, the WSJ’s chief rival, The New York Times, has suffered a 20 per cent fall in circulation.”

As we so often find with Mr Murdoch and his papers, the facts are selectively chosen to put the best spin on their own operations, and the worst spin on those of a rival or target. So while growth in the WSJ‘s digital edition since 2007 has filled the gap caused by sliding sales of the analogue paper, enabling overall sales to remain steady, it has lagged behind that of The New York Times in the past two years.

In 2007 the WSJ had total sales of 2.01 million (that’s the six months to March of that year). The number of digital subscribers wasn’t broken out and was a “state secret”. But best estimates put analogue paper sales around 1.7-1.8 million and digital subs around the 300,000 to 380,000 mark. That was certainly better than the NYT which sold just 1.041 million analogue print copies (its paying digital subscriber system hadn’t started then).

In the six to September 2012, the latest figures for US newspaper circulations, the WSJ had 2.293 million total sales, including 1.499 million analogue print copies and 794,000 digital subscribers.

The NYT had 717,000 analogue copies and 896,000 paying digital subscribers, for a total of 1.613 million at the end of September last year. So yes, Rupe, the NYT has lost print sales, but so has WSJ, but at a slower rate. But the Times has had faster growth with its metered paywall/digital subscription approach since it started in March 2011.

In the six months from March 2011, the Times’ new paywall saw a 25% jump in total sales (analogue and digital) to 1.2 million (now up to more than 1.6 million). The Wall Street Journal‘s total sales (analogue and digital) were 2.1 million, which was barely changed from the March, 2011 figure. If anything The Wall Street Journal‘s total circulation has barely risen by around 170,000 – 180,000, all of it in the digitals. The Times is up around 400,000 (all in digitals as well), as analogue sales fell from 916,000 to 717,000 last September.

The Times‘ growth in digital subscribers has considerably outperformed The Journal‘s to the point where it now leads The Journal.  But you didn’t read that in the puff piece published in The Weekend Australian. An ‘inconvenient truth?’