For all their commitment to transparency and a desire to pursue issues such as freedom of information, Australia’s three major newspaper publishers are rather Soviet compared to their American counterparts.

Fairfax, News Ltd and APN News and Media do not make much information available on advertising revenues and trends, unlike say the TV broadcasting industry in this country which at least provides ad revenues twice a year and ratings every day.

In contrast, the Newspaper Association of America is quite proactive in releasing information, even if it shows the industry’s fortunes are sliding. For example, last week the Association said that US newspapers’ print advertising sales suffered their largest ever fall on record, dropping 14% in the first quarter, because of falling real-estate and employment markets, not to mention the continuing migration of business to the internet.

The Association said US advertisers spent $US8.43 billion on newspaper ads in the first three months of 2008, the eighth quarterly drop in a row. Real estate and job recruitment ads each fell 35%. The decline was the biggest on record with figures going back to 1971. The previous record was an 11.9% drop in the fourth quarter of 2001, when the economy was in recession.

The trend of falling ads, especially in real estate and jobs, isn’t unknown in Australia, but the three companies won’t talk about it, and there’s no industry association to do the job for them.

But we can get a taste of what is going on from the monthly ANZ Bank job ads series, released in the week that monthly labour force figures are provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Last week, the ANZ series showed that in May, newspaper employment ads hit the wall.

Job ads in major metropolitan newspapers fell by 13.5% in May to a weekly average of 17,196. That was the largest monthly decline in almost eight years and newspaper job ads are now 15% lower than May 2007, which is bad news for the likes of Fairfax, News Ltd and APN News and Media. Print media ads declined in every state and territory last month, with NSW seeing an 11.7% fall.

Nationally, internet job ads fell by 0.7% in May to an average of 253,554 a week, but that was still up 11.8% on May of last year. In the year to May, net job ad numbers grew by 11.8%.

The ABS Labour Force figures showed that 19,500 jobs were lost in Australia with around 17,000 of those coming in NSW. No word from Fairfax or News Ltd, which dominate the business in the state, about how their ad revenues went in May. With retail sales sliding and retailers cutting back, you’d have to say that May wasn’t a good month, but at least we know that about America.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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