Some newspaper publishers will go to amazing lengths to ignore the
slide in circulations in some of their papers, despite the knowledge of
time poor readers and an absence of “big stories”.
So here’s some scenarios that will frighten some newspaper managements
in Australia. Looking at the latest newspaper circulations, relative to
the type of market (monopoly and competitive), which Australian daily
or weekly paper was the worst performer?

The figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, cover the first half of 2004 and were released yesterday.

There are no easy answers to the above question and you can click on
the reports below to make up your own minds, but the way the Brisbane Courier-Mail
keeps falling towards 200,000 copies a day must be worrying and would
tend to undermine that huge valuation placed on Queensland Press
($A2.45 billion and debt of $500 million) in the News Corp reshuffle
and departure for US.

But then the way The Sydney Morning Herald keeps losing readers
(low yield readers, as the paper puts it or, those who are on cheap
entry offers and don’t renew at the full whack because they can’t see
the value), you’d have to have an each way bet on it or the Curious Snail reaching the magic 200,000 level first.

Or will the SMH‘s Melbourne Fairfax stalemate, The Age beat
them both to the 200,000 copies a day, Monday to Friday, by reaching
that level once again after almost a decade of drifting below it?

The Fairfax publications are at least in competitive markets where the News Ltd papers are doing better. Not so The Courier-Mail, The Advertiser and The West Australian. All one paper markets and are obviously fat and lazy.

If not the SMH or The Courier-Mail, perhaps then The ‘Tiser in Adelaide or The West Australian in Perth may fall through that magic level before them all? All things are possible!

The Courier-Mail is a monopoly in Brisbane. Its circulation
eased Monday to Friday by two per cent to 214,814 copies, the Saturday
edition lost 1.2% to 342,253 and the big Sunday paper added half a per
cent to 615,328 copies.

Over in Adelaide, a much smaller and slower growing market, the
Advertiser lost 1.1% of its circulation in the six months to average
202,135 copies. That, is, on comparison marginally better than the
Courier Mail in the bigger and faster growing Brisbane and southeast
Queensland market.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Monday to Friday paper lost four per
cent as those ‘low yield’ readers were shed. Average circulation stood
at 216,857. A derisory figure if you remember that just after CEO Fred
Hilmer took the reins in the late 90’s, the paper’s Monday to Friday
figure was 229,000 (September 1999 audit).

Any further fall in this six-month which could be Fred’s last full six
month period as CEO (he is supposed to depart in the first half of
2005) would not be good news for Fairfax, which has struggled to
revitalise its Sydney flagship. This was Crikey’s take on Fred’s
reign in May – Who will be the new Fred at Fairfax?

The Monday to Friday Australian Financial Review lost a few copies to average 85,746, compared to around 91,000 in the September 1999 audit, while the Saturday AFR added 1.1% to 88,000. The Saturday SMH lost
4.67% (more of the pesky low yielders!) to 373,825 in a continuation of
the slow gentle sag in this revenue-rich publication.

Of the rival News Ltd papers in Sydney, The Daily Telegraph lost one per cent to 403,139 copies and its Saturday edition added a copy or two to just over 341,000.

The Australian and The Weekend Australian both rose enjoyed small gains, up 1% and 1.66% respectively. Both Sydney Sundays lost ground, the Smellie (The Sunday Telegraph) down 1% to a still massive 726,238 (will Jenny Cooper have to return the Porsche?), while the Fairfax’s Sun-Herald
continues to bleed, shedding 3.3% to 524,785 copies. It remains
the biggest headache in Fairfax and the one that management seems
unable to stop the slide in sales and readers.

In Melbourne while The Age added 0.4% or a few hundred copies Monday to Friday to 198,500. The Saturday edition (like the SMH,
revenue heavy) shed three and a half per cent of it’s circulation to
average 204,200 copies, not a good result. No doubt more of those ‘low
yield’ buyers leaving.

The Herald Sun added a smidge to 551,100 copies and the Saturday
edition did the same to 521,000 copies. The Sunday edition’s
circulation jumped a good 3.5% to 603,000 (nice rounded totals at the Herald Sun in Melbourne!). In Perth, The West Australian, a monopoly, followed The Courier-Mail in Brisbane in failing to exploit its market. The West’s
circulation edged up fractionally to just over 205,000 copies, the
Sunday edition added half a per cent to 354,000 copies, but the
Saturday edition fell almost one per cent to 278,385 copies.

This is how three major papers reported the results

First The AgeSales of The Age on the rise

A poor effort even for on an online report, and not nearly good enough for a paper that claims some national importance.

A much better effort in The Australian – Paper chase: circulation rises

And a good report in The Sydney Morning Herald that showed up the paucity of The Age‘s effort – Papers battle time constraints

So the spin is in. The stories are out and most groups are sort of
satisfied with a pretty average result. It’s a story of basically
static or falling circulations in the wider demographic and economic

The newspapers are fond of pointing out how TV viewing is easing,
especially on free to air television. But the performance of the daily
and weekly newspapers probably represent a bigger problem to their
owners than the loss of TV viewers does to their networks.

Magazine circulations are either static, growing for some newer titles, or slowly sliding.

And the newspaper publishers have followed magazine industry leader,
ACP down the route of managing the declines or static readerships with
great emphasis on publishing efficiencies, cost controls and maximising
advertising and cover price revenue. It has worked magnificently
for PBL and it should work for the newspaper groups, if they are
disciplined enough.

The pressures are not going to change, but with the biggest advertising
boom the media has seen in years, all errors are covered, all
circulation slides are nothing than a problem to be addressed, and if
you look at the News Ltd results this week, all things are possible
when advertisers are backing up to fill your papers. Just as they
are lining up to fill all the available airtime on TV and Radio.