It’s always hard to know how much credence to put in circulation figures, given the way the system works.

Any newspaper that someone pays for — no matter how little they pay — counts towards the results. Thus the deals under which university students, school teachers, gym members, attendees at sporting matches and so on and so forth can get close to free newspapers.

It all boosts the stats, particularly when the newsagents involved get paid full tote odds, and therefore have a vested interest in, for example, signing up the local school teachers.

And that’s even before we get to giveaways and other special deals that give a distorted one-off result.

Nevertheless, newspaper circulation figures are at least audited, and there are limits to the bodginess — unlike readership stats.

So there is no hiding the bad news in the latest figures, released yesterday. Monday to Sunday metropolitan newspaper sales fell by 2.5%. Only The West Australian had any kind of rise — and it would be interesting to speculate on why that might be.


Meanwhile, the biggest loser was News Ltd’s Sunday Mail in Queensland, which dropped nearly 7%. The Australian Financial Review lost almost 6% — having been on a steepish downward trajectory for some time. The Sydney Morning Herald held steady, but The Age lost 4.5%. The Australian had a small fall, effectively also holding steady.

There is no good news, despite the various publishers’ attempts to spin the stats, as though they have never had a bad audit.

One could go nuts trying to figure out the reasons, but as previously stated, the various giveaways and circulation deals mean that the navel gazing rarely leads to much enlightenment.

And the real story — total newspaper circulation plotted against population growth over time — tells a much grimmer story. Daily newspaper readership is a sharply declining habit.

The newspaper proprietors assert, not entirely without justification, that what they care about these days is readership, including online readership, which is generally growing. But that doesn’t deal with the fact that the business model still largely relies on the print product, and its “premium” position.

Meanwhile, magazines, which a few years ago seemed to be holding up while their less glossy cousins declined, are also in trouble. TV Week is heading south, losing more than 11%. OK lost 15% and Zoo also lost heavily. Celeb pics and breasty birds seem to be losing their appeal faster than news — a reverse of the trends predicted a decade ago.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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