I know which part of publishing I’d like to be in at the
moment and it ain’t newspapers.

The latest circulation figures for the six months to
December make very depressing reading for Fairfax and News Ltd, the latter
however would take some comfort from the offer-driven rise in the Monday to
Friday sales of The Australian and small increases in the Herald Sun (Monday to
Friday and the Sunday edition).

>Apart from that it’s bad news everywhere, Melbourne is still
good for news but Fairfax is suffering down
south and its Sydney
home base in NSW.

Worrying for Fairfax
is that in the midst of the biggest stockmarket boom
and buoyant economic conditions, sales of the Monday to Friday Australian
Financial Review
and the Weekend edition both lost a lot of ground in the six

The Monday to Friday AFR, which lost 3.58% in the six months
to 85,293, shed a larger 5.93% of circulation to 80,023 on Saturday.

There was no explanation in the Fairfax papers and the AFR merely reported
the newspaper and magazine audit figures in a story inside the paper on Friday.

Both editions of the AFR in fact were following the
falling sales of leading business magazines like The Bulletin from ACP,
which is now looking anorexic, BRW (another Fairfax business publication) and Time magazine from the US. While sales
of two Fairfax
magazines, Personal Investor and Shares were up over the year, they were down
compared to the June figures midyear.

This slide for the AFR editions should be the biggest worry
for Fairfax.
The paper makes a lot of money from its near impregnable position covering
business (and politics) in this country. While the drain for The Age and the
SMH are worrying, the continuing weakness in the AFR is undermining its position. Its inability to exploit the good economy and very
strong stockmarket is starting to look like a
management issue.

Perhaps it was the slump in the housing market that hurt the
AFR like it hurt the magazine, Australian Property Investor, but the AFR covers
more than just property and should have been doing better.

Here’s Crikey’s take on the same
figures a year ago for newspapers – Newspaper circulation: fact and fiction.
As you can see its been downhill since for most papers since then, except the
Herald Sun and its Saturday and Sunday stablemates of
News Ltd in Melbourne.

Even Fairfax’s Melbourne papers lost some of the gains of the past year or in the six months to
December, 2004.

This is how the Sydney Morning Herald reported the story today – Sales of papers slump in Sydney

The Australian trumpeted its offer-bought lift of 4.39% on
the top of Page two, but played down another slip in the sales of the bigger
selling Weekend Australian of 0.64% under the headline “Readers choose The
Australian for the stories that matter

Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?

But the story did contain a gem of a quote from the head of Fairfax business
publications, Michael Gill who said the figures “did not reflect the
strong underlying circulation trend for the AFR amongst our target

Hmmm, must be a deeply buried trend, Michael, unless the
core audience is buying more, but the non core audience is positively
abandoning the paper!

Gill had no comment on the similar decline in Fairfax’s business
magazines in the half, especially BRW.

However, Fairfax management
has bigger immediate concerns right at the moment with The Sydney Morning
continuing to head south for all editions and the Melbourne Age
reversing its recent strong gains. The weekday SMH lost 3.5% to just over
214,000 copies, while the Saturday edition shed a huge 5.4% to 352,482.

The weekday Melbourne Age fell 0.4% to 196,250 and the
Saturday edition shed 4.2% to 292,250.

Fairfax’s Sydney
Sun-Herald also lost more ground, slipping 2.3% to 513,888 and the Sunday Age
lost 0.7% to 194,750 copies.

So there’s something there for new editor, Andrew Jaspan, the declines in Melbourne
are nowhere near as bad as those in Sydney.
He has his brave new revamp coming soon and was quoted as saying this would
help the paper revive.

For News Ltd the highlight was the 0.02% rise in sales for
the Herald Sun weekday edition to an average 553,100, the 0.1% rise in the
Saturday edition to 512,000 and the more solid 2.5% rise for the Sunday Herald
to 605,000.

News Ltd’s Daily Telegraph and
Sunday Telegraph had a bad period in Sydney.
The weekday Tele was off 2.6% to 390,410 copies the Saturday edition edged 0.3%
higher to 337,263 but sales of the Sunday Telegraph again eased, this time by
1.8% to 716,326.

The Sunday Tele though remains the country’s biggest selling
Sunday paper and the Herald Sun the biggest
selling weekday and Saturday paper, so there are some bragging rights for News

In Brisbane,
no joy for News Ltd in the newly acquired Courier Mail with in its weekday and
Saturday editions. They were down 2.5% and 1%
respectively, but sales of the Sunday Mail in Brisbane rose 1.3%.

Over in Adelaide
at News Ltd’s Advertiser, sales of the weekday paper fell 0.6%, the
Saturday edition, 0.9% and the Sunday Mail was off 0.1%.

In Perth
the West Australian weekday paper rose 1.3% but the Saturday edition fell 0.8%.
Sales of the rival Sunday Times rose 0.6% in Perth.

Sales of the Canberra Times were off 1.8% on Sunday, and 2.8% for the
weekday edition and 3.2% for the Saturday paper, so a poor time in the nation’s
capital for the juicy Rural Press-owned monopoly.