Herald Sun editor-in-chief Peter Blunden has done a great job over
the past decade running a sometimes brutal regime that has maintained
the paper’s title of Australia’s “biggest selling paper” with a huge circulation margin of more than 320,000 over The Age.


Indeed, the presence of John Howard, Steve Bracks, Peter Costello, Jeff
Kennett, John So, police commissioner Christine Nixon, Lachlan Murdoch
and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch at his tenth anniversary celebration in the
job last April confirmed
that Blunden is an enormously powerful and respected figure both in
Melbourne and in Federal politics.


However, after years of being laughed at by News Ltd, the ever gentlemanly team at The Age appear to be fighting back and putting some runs on the board – albeit at a short-term cost to profit.


First, we had the exclusive circulation deal with Melbourne’s Docklands stadium and some of
its tenant AFL clubs, including St Kilda, Carlton and Essendon. That
has now extended to The Age recently snaring back exclusive rights to the
Melbourne Food and Wine Festival as well as the Melbourne Racing Club,
which covers the Caulfield Cup.


Blunden is a keen punter and has long been regarded as “owning” racing,
such that the rockets have been going off with threats about coverage
of events at Caulfield, not unlike the furore that engulfed Carlton’s circulation deal, as Media Watchreported in May. The Age‘s newfound aggression even extends to its editorial tactics, having just also poached legendary trainer Lee Freedman as a columnist, prompting more angry Herald Sun rockets.


Many of these deals don’t come cheap and The Age’s circulation manager,
Antony Catalano, has seemingly been given a blank cheque to go out
there and do deals that will boost both circulation and readership after
years of relative decline. However, it appears to be working.


The last two Morgan
readership surveys have seen the daily Herald Sun lose more than 50,000 readers and the Sunday Herald Sun has dropped 100,000 readers over the past year, putting pressure on new editor Simon Pristel. The Age is up over the same period and The SundayAge hit a new record.


Readership is one thing, but the latest circulation figures are out at
midnight tonight and it will be interesting to see if this trend
continues and how the two papers report the data. We’ll let you know
tomorrow, but at one level it would be unfair to criticise Blunden for any decline because the Herald Sun
is still the highest penetration newspaper in the world, reaching 40%
of Victorian homes. From that position in the internet age, the only
way is down – especially with the slightly tougher circulation audit
rules.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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