Coasters and posters, yoga and music CDs – let’s not forget all the extras that have been coming with the Saturday editions of our Fairfax broadsheets over the last six months.

It seems surly to rain on the parade, particularly when the The Agehas run an over the top triumphalist piece boasting “soaring” circulation and readership figures this morning. The SMH story is more balanced.

A close reading of the weekday figures is revealing. The Age reports that its Monday to Friday circulation is “steady” on 195,100, while the truth (as reported by The SMH) is that there is a tiny decline of 0.59%. The SMH‘s weekday circulation rose just 0.14% – which most fair-minded readers would interpret as “steady” indeed. Meanwhile the Herald-Sun is up 0.2%. These minuscule movements mean hardly anything.

There is certainly some good news for newspapers, but most of it is about Saturday and Sunday. It is becoming recognised in newspaper and advertising land that Sunday is the new Saturday in terms of relaxed newspaper readership.

And as discussed by Fairfax Circulation and Sales Manager Sean Harrison here, the last year has seen the Fairfax Saturday broadsheets run trial subscription offers on the back of product giveaways – music CDs, coasters and posters. In polite marketing society its called “an appealing consumer proposition.”

James Hooke, NSW managing director for Fairfax metropolitan, regional and community newspapers, acknowledges that improvements in getting the papers to newsagents on time and “a marketing campaign to boost subscriptions” played a “significant role” in circulation rises which he predicts will continue. Let’s hope so.

On Saturdays TheAustralian is up 1.2%, The Daily Telegraph up 1.5%, and the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age up 1.5% and 1.6% respectively. The star in the newspaper field is the Saturday edition of the The Australian Financial Review – up 5%

As for the readership figures – they are all over the place. And everyone knows that newspaper managements are generally sceptical about them, except when it suits them. Why else did we hear, just last week, that newspaper publishers are uniting in an attempt to have them overhauled?

That doesn’t stop The Age describing The Australian as plummeting in readership – although the real picture for the Murdoch broadsheet is mildly good – up 1.3% Monday to Friday, and 1.2& on Saturdays.

The complete table of newspaper circulation figures is on page 21 of The Australian‘s business section – but unfortunately not online.

Peter Fray

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