The latest 2011 circulation figures indicate that it was a mixed-to-good December quarter for some titles, an average half-year for others and another miserable 12 months for the majority of newspapers and magazines.

For Fairfax in Sydney and Melbourne, it was misery upon misery, with bad sales slips at The Sydney Morning Herald. For News Limited, especially in Sydney, the news was a little better, but its Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart mastheads had little to shout about.

The improvement for some titles (The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, Sunday to Saturday) will provide little other than temporary relief as restructuring costs and falling advertising revenues continue. News Corp revealed this week in its second quarter results that it took a $US36 million restructuring charge against its Australian papers (and some in Britain).

Sydney media analyst Steve Allen sees some signs of recovery, but wrote overnight to clients that “it will take investment” from the media groups to achieve that. Allan pointed out that annual newspaper sales had fallen from 888.696 million in 2006 to 789,843 million in 2011. That’s a fall of just over 10%, which is not all that dramatic when compared to losses in US newspaper sales of 20% and 30% and more in the same time. Allen said the loss in 2011 was the biggest since 2007, but he says “this is the worst year/highest rate of decline we will see”.

Sunday newspapers saw the biggest loss of sales: down 4.5% according to Allen’s numbers, against 4.3% for weekend papers and 3.7% for Monday-to-Friday editions. National papers did the best, a loss of just 0.1%, the smallest fall in five years. Metro papers lost 4.1%, more than in any year since 2007.

Fairfax Media is facing the same pressures as its rivals. It’s metro papers’ heartlands are fading, bleeding sales and revenue.

The Age’s Monday-to-Friday editions saw a 5.9% slide in circulation (3.5% for the three months to December and 6.6% in the June-December half). Sales finished the year at 184,156, in December. The Saturday Age fell 6.5% in the year to 263,047 (and 1% in the quarter and 4.3% in the six months to December). The Sunday Age lost 3.7% of its sales over the year.

In Sydney, The SMH Monday-to-Friday slumped 11.9% to 184,613 (and 2.7% in the quarter and 7.8% for the six months). The Saturday edition lost 7.73% to 314,683 (8.3% for the six months to December and just 0.3% for the quarter). The Monday-to-Friday and Saturday papers lost more than 25,000 copies each in the year. The Sunday Sun-Herald paper fell 8.1% to 406,470 for the year, a loss of more than 36,000 from 2010.

For News Ltd, the Herald Sun’s Monday-to-Friday edition fell 4.6% to 472,444 (1.9% for the quarter and 3.3% for the six months to December). The Saturday edition dipped 4% to 469,574 (and 3.2% in the half year and just 0.4% in the quarter). The Sunday Herald Sun lost 5.7% to 542,577, a fall of nearly 33,000 copies over the year.

In Sydney, The Daily Telegraph saw a 1.8% slide for the year to 347,722 (and was down 0.1% for the quarter and 2% for the half year). But the Saturday edition was steady (well, it added 32 copies a day over the year, but also jumped 3% or more than 9400 copies in the December quarter) to 327,209. The Sunday Telegraph added 0.2% to 618,950 to remain the country’s biggest-selling newspaper. The Sunday Telegraph added more than 12,000 or 2.1% in the December quarter to move further ahead of its Fairfax rival.

News Ltd papers in Brisbane (The Courier-Mail, Sunday Mail) had another bad audit, with all three losing sales. The Sunday Mail lost 7.2% in the year. In Adelaide, the Advertiser added 0.4% in the December quarter, but was down over the year and half-year Monday-to-Friday, while the Sunday Mail lost ground over the three measurement periods.

The Mercury in Hobart added 1.1% in the December quarter, but lost ground over the six months and the year Monday-to-Friday. The Saturday edition also added sales in the December quarter, but lost ground over the six months and year. The Sunday Tasmanian lost sales over the quarter, half year and year.

For the national papers, The Australian rose 3.5% cent Monday-to-Friday to 133,701 for the year, or more than 4500 copies. (And up 0.5% in the quarter and 2.6% for the half year, so the improvement was consistent). The Weekend Australian rose 1.6% to just over 295,000 for the year (and 0.4% and 0.6% for the quarter and half year respectively).

Fairfax’s national financial daily The Australian Financial Review dropped 3.3% Monday-to-Friday to 72,282 copies for the year. It fell 1.2% in the December quarter and 2% for the December half year. But sales of the Saturday edition rose 3.7% to 81,667, with a very solid 13.7% or 9833 extra copies sold every Saturday in the December quarter and 2.6% more over the six months.

In Perth, Kerry Stokes’ West Australian added sales over the year, but lost sales in the December quarter (1.8%) and in the half year (4.9%) for the Monday-to-Friday edition. The Saturday paper lost 3.7% for the year and also lost sales in the quarter and half year.

In magazines, not much joy for Nine Entertainment’s ACP or Seven West Media’s Pacific Magazines, with their big selling titles all suffering to a degree.

ACP’s Woman’s Day lost lost 3.3% (or 12,870 copies over the year) to finish on 372,146. It lost 2.2% in the December quarter and 3.5% for the six months to December. And The Australian Women’s Weekly lost 3.3% over the year to end at 470,221 copies. In the six months to December (monthlies are not measured quarterly), the AWW lost 4.3% or more than 21,000 copies. ACP’s OK magazine had a 4.6% rise to 101,658, an extra 4475 copies.

Pacific’s flagship title Better Homes and Gardens lost 1.7% or more than 6400 sales over the year to end at 378,048. But it added 4.4% or 16,036 over the December half year to arrest the first-half decline. Better Homes and Gardens is now the second biggest selling magazine in the country behind the Women’s Weekly. 

Pacific’s New Idea shed 3.6% over the year to end at 305,159 (a loss of more than 11,300). Pacific’s That’s Life lost 6.2% or more than 16,000 in 2011 to end at 245,047. Who Weekly added 0.8% over the year to end at 132,231, a rare success story.

Men’s magazines were a disaster area: FHM lost 48% over the year, or 24,128 copies, to end on 26,026; People lost nearly 26% or 10,291 copies to end on 29,834; Picture shed nearly 24% (or 13,357) to end on 42,858; Zoo Weekly lost 26.9% (or 26,182) to end at 70,992.

ACP’s TV Week continued its slide, shedding 11.1% of its sales (or 20,780) over the year to end at 167,042. Australian Geographic lost 21% — or more than 25,000 copies — over 2011 to end at 95,429.

The success story was again independent youth title Frankie — its sales rose 14% over the year, or just over 7100 to nearly 58,000 by December.