So who would you rather be in these times of media gloom: the owners of newspapers or the owners of magazines?

The combined circulations of daily and weekly titles continued to slide in the December quarter, with a 2.07% fall for metro titles. Some big names like New Idea, Woman’s Day, Australian Women’s Weekly, Cleo and several “lad mags” suffered another bout of double digit sales slumps.

Weekly magazines lost 8.02% in the December 2008 half year (and a similar fall in the quarter) and monthly magazines shed 11.2%. Compared with the falls in the December half, the loss by weeklies were more than three times the 2.2% slump, while monthlies merely added to the 9.3% fall in the previous corresponding period.

National papers rose 0.41% in the December quarter, but that was due to a rise in the sales of the national Saturday papers.

The Weekend Australian was up 30% over the year to December and up 0.7% from the September quarter.

The Australian‘s circulation rose 1.5% Monday to Friday in 2008, but fell 2.1% in the last three months of 2008, compared with the September quarter.

The weekday Australian Financial Review lost sales in the quarter, as did its Saturday edition: down 2.4% for the week day edition in 2008 and 2.5% for the Saturday paper. The Saturday paper rose 12% in December but that wasn’t enough to reverse the earlier fall.

The estimates for the weekday and Saturday editions of The Australian are rounded out (137,000, 309,000 respectively), whereas figures for the weekday AFR is accurate to the last sale (86,158). But the AFR‘s Saturday edition is a rounded out figure: 93,000, compared with the September figure of 83,365.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph is also a rounded out figure: 369,000 Monday to Friday for the December quarter, against 375,000 in the September quarter and 375,000 in the December quarter of 2007.

Magazines again were a black spot. ACP was hurt by falls in The Australian Women’s Weekly (down 13.8%), Woman’s Day, off 12.9%, Grazia shed 5000 copies, NW fell more than 16%. At Seven’s Pacific Magazines, New Idea fell 14.9% over the year.

The most notable change in magazines was the slump in sales of The Australian Women’s Weekly. Its monthly average fell under 500,000 for the first time in at least 60 years to 491,476, down more than 13% over 2008 and 7.3% in the second half of the year compared to the June half.

Pacific’s Better Homes and Gardens was again the star, lifting sales 8.6% over the year to 380,000. ACP’s joint venture, Top Gear (with the BBC), did well, with sales of 85,350 copies. TV Week (ACP) lost 4.9% of its sales over 2008 and is now selling just over 228,000 copies each week.

Better Homes and Gardens stands out because it is a good example of a well developed cross media platform strategy that publishers and TV networks talk so much about, but rarely get right.

Men’s mags, like FHM and Ralph at ACP lost 24.2% and 22.0% of their sales over the year. Alpha, the News Ltd sports title aimed at males, shed another 16% of its sales over the year and with just 104,000 in sales, must be looking shaky.

Magazine sales haven’t regained the ground that they lost in the first half of the year as rising petrol prices, rising interest rates and worries about the economy saw consumers cut back on their spending on discretionary items, such as magazines.

The figures were released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, but alert viewers might have noticed a new name popping up in some of the stories; a group called The Newspaper Works.

Here’s a quote from the story in the The Australian:

Industry group The Newspaper Works said total Australian newspaper sales dipped 2.1 per cent in December compared to the same time last year, while the combined sales of metropolitan Saturday papers was only 1.2 per cent lower.

The Newspaper Works was established in September 2006 by the five major newspaper publishers and the board is composed of their respective CEOs. So you wouldn’t expect it to be an unbiased commentator or analyst.

But their main point: that Australian papers circulations haven’t done as poorly as those in the US and the UK certainly looks valid. But sales continue to slide — down 2.07% in the quarter. As Fusion Strategy’s Paul Allen points out, the December quarter slide is a “creeping decline” not “accelerating.” Metro sales fell 1.95% in the September quarter and 1.25% in the June quarter.

Peter Fray

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