A few days after John Howard announced the date of this year’s federal election the Australian Press Council released a supplement to its 2006 State of the News Print Media in Australia report. Badly timed, the supplement sank without a trace.

Which is a pity. Leaving aside the fact that it describes the Howard government’s use of “spin” as “amoral” – surely worth a para or two in the first week of the campaign – this new report adds useful facts to what we know about the current state of the industry. The new web-only outlet, Fairfax’s brisbanetimes.com.au, for example, has 339,828 “unique browsers” each month, almost matching traffic to the Courier-Mail’s site.

The report also signals that the Press Council is beginning to make the shift that newspaper proprietors have alsready embarked on, with the organisation saying that it will now “accept application for membership” from “news sites that have or wish to gain reputations for accuracy, fairness and balance”.

Prospective members will need to abide by the Council’s “longstanding principles, and privacy standards, and [be] willing to police some additional blog ‘etiquette’ requirements, covering civilised discourse, an absence of threats and extreme language.” These guidelines are currently being drafted.

But perhaps the most fascinating fact in the report is tucked away in a table showing the trends in newspaper circulation over the past five years. Leave aside the long-term decline for a moment (a trend that only The Age and The Courier-Mail have resisted during this period), take out your calculator and add up metropolitan newspaper sales in each state (excluding the sales of the national papers, The Australian and the AFR). Then divide that number by the number of adults in each state. The resulting table, as calculated by Crikey, shows how many copies of a metropolitan newspaer are sold per thousand adults in each state:

Weekday sales Per thousand adults Saturday sales Per thousand adults
ACT 33,935 105 63,115 195
NSW 604,700 92 704,000 107
VIC 742,000 150 814,000 165
QLD 221,049 57 316,662 81
SA 191,325 126 259,807 172
WA 203,328 104 356,844 182
TAS 46,985 99 61,985 130
NT 20,880 108 31,150 161

The most striking contrast is between New South Wales and Victoria. According to these figures, Victorians are over 50% more likely to buy a daily paper.

Part of the explanation, according to media analyst Rodney Tiffen, professor of government at Sydney University, is in the demography of the two states. New South Wales is more decentralised and has traditionally had more non-metropolitan dailies than Victoria. By my very rough calculation, using ABS city-country population figures, that accounts for about a third of the gap – leaving the marked differential still largely unexplained.

Adding in the figures for traffic to the papers’ websites reduces the gap, but still leaves Victorians’ consumption of print and web newspapers streets ahead of NSW.

Figures for the other states need to be treated with caution. In the ACT, for example, readers can get the Sydney Morning Herald home delivered, which might depress sales of the Canberra Times. The population of Tasmania, on the other hand, is split between two large centres, Hobart and Launceston, and these figures do not include the Launceston Examiner.

Nevertheless, all the differences – including the different rankings on a Saturday – are intriguing.

If you have any theories (education must play a role, for example) we’d be interested to hear. Email us at [email protected]