While newspaper circulations may have held up in the figures released at the end of last week, six of Australia’s eight largest daily newspapers saw falls in readership numbers, according to data released today.

The worst-hit was The Australian, which saw an annual drop of 10.1% to an estimated average readership of 436,000 in 2008. Next was Fairfax’s The Age, which saw a fall of 7.8% to 707,000.

Despite the fact that advertisers would theoretically be more interested in buying according to how many eyeballs they are going to reach, The Roy Morgan figures tend to be given less weight by the industry than the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures, because the methodology has less transparency. The ABC attempts to verify how many actual copies of publications are distributed, while Roy Morgan’s estimates allow for copies to be passed along to other readers.

The two sets of info also often conflict. For instance, according to the ABC last week, the AFR was down 2.4% on weekdays. But Roy Morgan has its readership up by 3.8%. The same paper’s circulation was down by 2.5% on a Saturday, while its readership was up by an astonishing 22.8%, according to Roy Morgan today.

And while the ABC had Queensland’s Courier Mail down by 2.5%, Roy Morgan has its readership up by 2.9%.

Fairfax Business Media’s CEO Michael Gill tells today’s AFR: “The Morgan survey is unable to deliver reliable or consistent estimates of readership in our audiences.”

Meanwhile, today’s Australian could almost have seen a different set of figures, citing Newspaper Works boss Tony Hale as saying that the “strong readership figures further demonstrate the continuing strength of the medium”.

And the SMH reports that Roy Morgan is working on providing a separate number for how many readers view a publication online, which the research company says has changed its methodology slightly, meaning the latest figures are not necessarily directly comparable to previous ones.

Among the other metro weekday dailies, the Adelaide Advertiser was down 4.8% in the readership; Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was down 6.8%; The Herald Sun was down 2.4%; the SMH by 7.4% and The West Australian down by 4.6%.

On Sundays, The Age and Herald Sun held steady, while the Mail in Queensland was down by 6.7%; the Mail in SA was down by 5.8%; the Sunday Telegraph was down by 3.1%, the Sunday Times in Perth was down by 1.6%; and the Sun-Herald in Sydney was down by 7.8%.

Peter Fray

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