Last week Fairfax dutifully released the latest edition of its Monthly Audience Report, presumably invented to convince advertisers that the shift to tablets and online did not mean the end for hallowed brands like The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Amid massive circulation declines, the company announced that it was actually withdrawing “unprofitable” hard copies of the two mastheads on purpose to save money, effectively fast-tracking the death of print.
Interestingly, the data gives an indication of just how many discount copies of The Age were gifted as officially-audited but undisclosed low-value subscription copies that ended up inflating circulation and dudding advertisers. In 2011, total Monday-Friday sales of The Age were hovering at 206,870. Now that number has dipped to 174,492 as the company moves teachers and students on to digital devices. Which is where it gets interesting — the difference — 32,387 — is a number eerily reminiscent of the number of copies Crikey reported were flowing through the secret channels in 2010.
At the time, of course, the extent of the cover-up wasn’t confirmed by Fairfax, with company secretary Gail Hambly citing “commercial in confidence” provisions. Now, 18 months on, we have the official evidence. — Andrew Crook
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