Far from being torn apart by the internet and people cruising for cheap, fee-free news, Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers have ridden out the current economic slump better than his titles in the UK and certainly better than The New York Post, which saw a 20% plunge in sales in the six months to last March.

The lightweight nature of Rupert Murdoch’s campaign to get people to pay to use his newspapers websites has been exposed by the latest Australian newspaper circulations in Australia. There’s been nothing as dramatic in the UK or Australia and here some papers actually lifted sales in the June quarter and the year to June.

In the year to March, US paper sales were down 7%, UK sales were off around 4%-5% in the year to June. But the recession has been deeper and nastier in the UK and US where unemployment has soared.

In Australia, while Fairfax and News Ltd papers are suffering nasty falls in ad revenues, especially classifieds, Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for June show small but not disastrous falls in some cases and small rises in others.

Sales of metropolitan, national and regional papers fell just 0.7% in the three months to June 30, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Total sales year on year fell just 0.6%. That’s not bad news for the media companies.

Fusion Strategy points out that the 0.60% fall over the year to June was sharply better than the annual rate of fall of 2% in the year to December, 2008.

Sales of News Limited’s The Daily Telegraph rose 1.1 per cent on weekdays in the year to June and 3.1 per cent on Saturday. Weekday sales of The Australian were steady at 135,831 and were up 2.1 per cent to 307,390 at the weekend. Sales in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane were weaker: The Courier Mail was up 1.1% Monday to Friday, the NT News was up, but the Sunday Times in Perth was down 2.2%. The Herald Sun was up for the Saturday edition by less than 1%, and down by less than one per cent for the Monday to Friday edition.

Monday to Friday sales of The Sydney Morning Herald fell 1.2% per cent to 210,000 on the corresponding period last year. Sales of the weekend issue rose a touch, to 359,200.

Sales of The Sun-Herald continue to fall, down 4.5% over the year to 461,509 copies. In contrast, sales of The Sunday Telegraph, which have been weak for the past 18 months, steadied at around 657,000 people in the June quarter.

In Melbourne, Fairfax’s Age lost ground Monday to Friday (down 0.6%, Saturday, off a nasty 3.,3% and Sundays down 1.0%.

The worst performer was Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review which saw sales down 8.4%, or nearly 7500 copies a day and 1.9% on Saturdays. That was put down to the impact of the global financial crisis and slowdown.

But there were conflicting figures for two of its key magazine inserts. Boss sales jumped 20.2% in the year to June to nearly 121,000 copies. It appears Friday’ which is one of the paper’s biggest selling days with 81,845 copies sold in the June quarter ( against 90,692 for the Saturday edition).

Fusion Strategy’s Steve Allen summed it up best: “The trend line for newspapers in Australia really probably (is) the best in the world.”

“A return to an overall trend line decline of less than 1% (is) remarkable,” he wrote this morning.

Peter Fray

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