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Nov 14, 2014

News Corp increases its dominance as Fairfax circulation in freefall

It's red everywhere, but Fairfax's print circulation declines have been the deepest, ABC data reveals.

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Increases in digital subscriber numbers have failed to stop the flow of red ink at Australia’s printed newspapers, with this morning’s Audit Bureau of Circulations figures showing no end to the dramatic year-on-year falls.

While almost all print titles audited posted circulation falls, the declines have been most dramatic at Fairfax. Melbourne’s The Age newspaper has now declined 19.63% year-on-year for its Monday-to-Friday edition, meaning it was read by almost a third as many people as read News Corp tabloid the Herald Sun. The Age’s weekend editions also posted significant falls. Courtesy of digital subscriptions, the paper’s total circulation did increase Monday to Friday by 4.08%, but given advertising revenues for online tend to be lower and the online subscription for Fairfax’s mastheads is itself significantly cheaper, it’s highly unlikely this comes close to replacing the revenue lost by print circulation declines.

Meanwhile the embattled AFR Weekend lost 11.12% of its circulation, while The Sydney Morning Herald’s Monday-to-Friday editions declined 14.48%, a figure similar to the 15.15% fall in circulation of its Sunday edition. The Financial Review Monday-to-Friday edition managed to contain its falls to single digits, losing 9.82% of print circulation.

At News Corp, the picture was also one of general decline, but the falls were significantly more contained. The Australian’s weekday edition dropped 9.2% in print copies, while its weekend edition fell 7.5%. The Herald Sun lost 8.6% on weekdays, and its Sydney cousin The Daily Telegraph lost only 6.4% (a comparatively good result). But the toasts at News Corp will be going to The Courier-Mail, which has stabilised its falls under editor Christopher Dore, who took over last year. It was down just 5.5% in its weekday edition. Bad luck to the NT News, whose weekend edition fell 16.3% as its Monday-to-Friday edition fell 12.1%. It’s an unusual result — at most newspapers the weekend editions have held up better than the weekday ones.

It’s not the first quarter in which declines at Fairfax have eclipsed those at News Corp. Fusion Strategy — which does a company-by-company comparison of the aggregate circulation falls at News, Fairfax and Seven West Media — demonstrates in a chart sent to journalists yesterday how far behind Fairfax has fallen in the circulation stakes. In every quarter for the past three years (since the September 2011 audit), Fairfax’s falls have been greater. Occasionally Fairfax’s total print circulation has declined by more than 10% than at News. Seven West Media — publisher of The West Australian — has been neck-and-neck with News for most quarters in the past three years (click chart to enlarge).

To some extent, Fairfax’s rapid loss of print circulation is intentional, as the company is limiting the printing of “unprofitable” editions and significantly investing its marketing and the like in online subscriptions, which, for the few outlets it reveals them for, have eclipsed those at News Corp in terms of growth. But the circulation figures show the riskiness (at least in the short term) of Fairfax’s strategy. They suggest Fairfax is losing more circulation in print than it needs to, as quarter after quarter both News and Seven West have posted far lower declines. While online circulations might, as Fairfax is betting, be the way of the future, right now they’re far less profitable.

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Myriam has been Crikey’s media reporter since 2014. Before that, she was a business journalist with sister site SmartCompany, covering economics and corporate strategy.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “News Corp increases its dominance as Fairfax circulation in freefall

  1. bushby jane

    I agree with Chris Maher, the company seems to be badly run. I had similar trouble with my digital subs. I think the price increase has had a lot to do with falling paper sales of The Age, however not only has it gone up in price by 20c in Tasmania, the mark up of 70c has risen to 90c as well. Now costs $3.40. This is even more weird as I understand that it is printed in the Fairfax office in Launceston.

  2. Chris Maher

    It was a nightmare trying to get my SMH subscription renewed. Then it never turned up for a week despite complaining every day. No replies, no nothing. Fairfax subs is a basketcase. Or is it being under resourced?

  3. Bill Hilliger

    @David Camfield: declining circulation is bad news for MSM, however, its good news for Australian democracy.

    The most enjoyable thing about travelling by air in Australia is that the free Australian newspaper available when boarding airlines only very few people avail themselves to the offer, especially the Australian is largely ignored by the travelling public.

  4. David Camfield

    yawn.. they are such a fascinating breed of journalists all jockeying into position to provide us with the most politically-correct, non-offensive interpretation of the chaos that is our society.. despite the ample material that is the insanity of the current auspol these guys focus on the utterly trivial..

    they deserve to dissappear into oblivion

  5. r k

    For a long time the trouble with the Age is how difficult it is to buy – for a casual buyer you simply cannot be sure the local milk bar or servo will have it, and it is an order of magnitude worse when you leave Melbourne.

    The graph included in the story is a bit misleading – much clearer would be a graph based on a common starting point (ie March 2011 = 100) to get a real idea of how much circulation has fallen.

    And for all the talk about digital, I would bet digital copies are not read in the depth that paper copies are read – lots of clicks on headlines but very little inside content. The top stories in the Age online would be very similar to the stop stories in the HS (car crashes/Kardashian/gossip etc), even though the print copies are very different.

  6. Daly

    News counts all those free copies of its papers distributed to airlines, hotels, cafés etc. setting the news agenda but not running as a business. In fact Murdoch’s philanthropic contribution to conservative Angloshere governments.

  7. Northy

    I don’t think Fairfax will be too worried about the SMH. It continues to increase its dominance as the most-read publication in Australia. A lot of those numbers come from digital now but that is the strategy. With the constant price rises of the print editions it is no wonder circulation is down. They would have to expect that. It doesn’t affect me as I’m a subscriber and the price hasn’t risen, plus it’s much cheaper than buying individually. But it would certainly put off those people who buy the paper at newsagents etc.

    Unless print is the future, I’d be more worried if I was News Corp with both the Oz and the Tele failing to make the top 10 list of news websites.

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