It was another terrible quarter for Australia’s metro newspapers and weekly magazines, according to the latest circulation audit figures. The three months to March saw falls in circulations continue across the board (with only three exceptions among newspapers), instead of a hoped-for steadying in the previous rate of loss. According to one analyst, Fusion Strategy’s Steve Allen in Sydney, it was the “biggest March quarter fall on a record” for newspapers and he said he saw no way of reversing the falling trend.

It came after a December quarter where the pace of the falls in newspaper sales seemingly slowed. But that didn’t last, thanks to the downturn in consumer sentiment, the rise of the internet, higher oil and petrol prices, the weak jobs market and Fairfax’s clean-up of its sales by eliminating freebies and giveaways.

Total sales of dailies, Saturday and Sunday editions of metro and national papers fell 5.1% in the quarter from a year earlier. They were down 2.1% from the December, 2011 quarter.

Only three metro papers saw rises in sales in the March quarter compared with the same quarter in 2011: the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s Saturday edition, which was up 0.8% over the year and 0.1% on the December, 2011 quarter, and the Adelaide Advertiser’s Monday-to-Friday edition, which rose 0.1% in the year to March and 0.4% in the quarter, from the last quarter of 2011. The third paper was the Saturday edition of The West Australian, which saw a 4% rise in the quarter from the last quarter of 2011 and was up half a per cent in the year to March.

Allen said in his analysis that “the pain continues with retail sales trend largely following consumer sentiment, and it’s not good, not good at all. Plus Fairfax on an avowed clean-up of marginal sales. But still this accelerates the trend with overall metro newspaper circulations off 4.58%. Nationals did best, weekends did worse, which continues previous trend. Biggest March fall on record.”

He added: “With Fairfax cleaning out circulation, one can only wonder what News Limited are doing. The same tricks with circulation will have been played by both for decades. We certainly think News Limited’s ‘crowing’ is unseemly, as it shines the light on their lack of circulation rigor and discipline. On the other hand … maybe Fairfax were the only bright ones in the room historically … now that cannot be right!” Gloomily, Allen said that “while there is a ‘cash splash’ in this week’s federal budget, we cannot see a catalyst for a reversal of these trends.”

Allen said the biggest falls “predictably and signalled to the market” were The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age for all editions, followed by The Sun-Herald and Weekend Australian Financial Review. News Ltd’s Courier-Mail Saturday edition in Brisbane saw a big loss as well, as did the Sunday Herald Sun in Melbourne.

The Fairfax clean-up of its circulation saw the Monday-to-Friday Sydney Morning Herald down 13.6% (or more than 26,500 copies a day) in the year to March, to 180,960 copies, while the Saturday edition lost 13.8% or close to 46,900 copies each Saturday to 293,324 copies. The Sun-Herald in Sydney lost 10.8% or close to 44,400 copies every Sunday to finish on 383,607 copies.

In Melbourne the Monday-to-Friday Age saw a 13.5% or 25,500 loss to 185,061 copies over the 12 months to March. The Saturday edition shed 12.4% or nearly 34,000 copies to 241,029. The Sunday Age shed 8.6% of its sales, or 19,332, to 206,068.

The Canberra Times saw a 6.6% or 2080 fall in its Monday-to-Friday sales (to 29,441 copies), the Saturday edition lost 8.2% or 4383 copies to end at 49,178 copies. The Sunday edition fell 5.6% or 1844 copies to 31,377 copies.

Nationally, The Australian Financial Review lost ground with its Monday-to-Friday edition dropping 3% or 2126 copies in the 12 months to to finish at 70,518 copies. The Saturday edition dropped 11.8% or 9255 copies to 69,057 copies.

At News Ltd, which is undergoing significant change at the hands of new CEO Kim Williams (and which was partly to blame for the $US31 million drop in revenues in News Corp’s newspapers business in the March quarter) it was a better quarter than Fairfax. But, papers in Brisbane and Melbourne suffered noticeable losses. The Courier-Mail Saturday and Sunday editions were notable losers.

The Australian’s Monday-to-Friday edition lost 1.6% of its sales in the year to March (2043 copies) to end at an average 127,942 copies. The weekend edition saw a small 0.8% dip (2236 copies) to 290,323 copies.

In Sydney, the Monday-to-Friday Daily Telegraph shed 1.4% of its sales over the 12 months (or 4914 copies) to end at 336,348 copies. The Saturday edition rose 0.8%, adding 2667 sales, to 327,427 copies. And The Sunday Telegraph retained its title as the country’s biggest-selling paper, despite  a 1.4% (8956 copies) fall to 609,187.  Should losses continue at this rate, The Sunday Tele will dip under the 600,000 mark some time in the next year.

In Melbourne, the Monday-to-Friday Herald Sun continued its run of sales losses with another poor quarter. It dropped another 3%, or 14,623 copies (over the year to March) to end on an average daily sales of 469,377. The Saturday edition lost 3.5% or nearly 17,000 copies to end the quarter at 472,047 copies. And the Sunday Herald Sun lost 5% of its sales or 28,500 copies to average 543,400 copies.

In Brisbane, News Ltd’s Monday-to-Friday Courier-Mail lost 3.9% of its sales over the year (or 7,503 copies) to end the quarter on 187,897 copies. The Saturday edition lost a nasty 8.2% or 22,793 copies to 255,520 and The Sunday Mail in Brisbane lost 6.4% or 31,430 copies to end the quarter at 461,688.

In Adelaide, The Advertiser’s Monday-to-Friday edition rose 0.1% or 185 copies to 176,702 in the March quarter. The Saturday paper, however, lost ground, dropping 2.7%  (6511) to end at 235,830 copies. The Sunday Mail fell 4.5% or nearly 13,000 copies to end at 274,687 copies.

In Perth, The Sunday Times again lost sales, this time a 2.8% fall or 8154 copies, to 280,112 copies. Seven West Media’s West Australian saw a 2.5% fall in its Monday-to-Friday sales (or 4541 copies) to end at 179,824. But the Saturday edition added 0.5% or 1590 copies to end at 314,568 copies.

In Darwin, the Monday-to-Friday edition of the Northern Territory News lost a nasty 5.5% of its sales (or 1044 copies) to 17,802 a day and the Saturday edition shed 3.7% or 1970 copies to end at 28,245. The Sunday Territorian did better, down just 0.4% or 81 copies at 20,074.

Magazines were also a tale of bloodletting (especially at ACP, which was put on the market in the quarter, but couldn’t find a buyer) and falling sales in the quarter. Only the weeklies are measured each quarter, monthlies such as The Australian Women’s Weekly are measured half yearly and yearly.

But the losses in magazines were nowhere near a large as those in newspapers, except in the ACP men’s titles such as The Picture, Zoo and People, which all had falls of about 30% over the year. Losses for weekly magazines in the March quarter compared with the December three months were much smaller than the full year slumps.

So Seven West Media’s Pacific Magazines saw sales of its flagship New Idea down 2.3% over the year to March (or just over 7000 copies) to 303,81 in the quarter. Pacific’s Famous title lost 1.5% (1361 copies) to 89,012 copies, while the big loser was That’s Life, which shed a nasty 8.8% (or 23,131 copies) to 238,304. Who Weekly went against the trend with a small rise of half a per cent or 627 copies over the year to 132,289.

ACP’s Woman’s Day lost a solid 5% or nearly 19,100 copies over the year to end at 365,266 copies. ACP’s Take 5 was another big loser, shedding 7.2% of its sales or 15,581 copies to end at 200,496. Grazia was also a loser for ACP, down 3.9% (2072 copies) at 51,516, as was NW, which lost 8.6% or 9945 copies to end at 105, 293 copies. OK! magazine though lifted, adding 2.7% or 2602 copies to 99,877 copies a week.

ACP’s TV Week continues its plunge towards oblivion: it lost 10.5% of its sales, or more than 19,600 copies to end at 167,50 copies a week. People (down 30%), Picture (down 29%) and ZOO Weekly (down 29.1%) are the remaining men’s magazines in the ACP stable and they are closer to oblivion, it would seem after ACP killed off FHM recently

Elsewhere BRW was a rare success story for Fairfax and the sector with a rise of 2.7% or 1075 copies over the year to March to end at 41,605.