It’s good news all round, and for once the newspaper industry should be happy with Crikey. Well, all right, we’re not holding our breath…

Some weeks ago I asked Steve Allen of Fusion Strategies to do some number crunching comparing circulation and readership figures of our major daily newspapers. The intention was to test how “real” circulation increases (and decreases) are, given the number of discount deals presently available.

In other words, are all those newspapers given at ultra-cheap prices to gym members, tertiary students, school teachers, sports club members and so on and so forth actually being read? As previously documented by Crikey, it is possible to get a newspaper for as little as 5c a day if you play your cards right.

A secondary issue of interest is the reliability of both Audit Bureau of Circulation figures and Morgan readership stats. Would the two agree with each other, or would there be large discrepancies, leading to concerns about the integrity of the methods used?

As I say, on the data available it seems to be good news all round.

There are some small anomalies, but broadly speaking Fusion’s year on year analysis to 30 June this year shows that circulation increases and decreases are more or less matched by readership increases and decreases.

Says Allen: “It show’s Morgan’s methodology is pretty good.”

It also indicates that by and large the cheap newspapers do get read. The tactic of newspaper marketers of cutting the subscription cost in order to get the paper into as many hands as possible would appear to be legitimate, and working to a point – albeit against a background of long term gradual decline in total newspaper circulation, and the challenges to the business model posed by the internet.

From a business point of view, at a time when production costs are increasing, it would be interesting to know yield per copy – but don’t expect either Fairfax or News Limited to release that kind of data. The Age, at least, has recently notified subscribers of a small increase in price.

There are some oddities concerning the Australian Financial Review. The weekend edition dipped in circulation a little over twelve months, but at the same time the readership dipped a lot – by 14.9%. The AFR, of course, has long claimed that Morgan’s methodology doesn’t accurately record its high-end readership.

The average weekday copy of The AFR hangs around in an office and has multiple readers, whereas on the weekends presumably this doesn’t operate, or not in the same way.

But that’s the only anomaly worthy of highlight. For the rest, it seems broadly safe to say that while there might be occasionally puzzling figures, over the long term circulation increases and decreases are “real” and do reflect reader habits.