Newspapers, as any one who reads them knows, love bad news – except when it comes to themselves.
The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show carnage across the board, with a 5.7% slump in weekday newspaper circulation over the past year. All newspapers lost paid readers except one: Kerry Stokes’ The West Australian.
Nevertheless, the results were greeted with the usual glass-more-than-half full analysis from the press. The Australian hailed itself on page two as “one of the best performing major mastheads” in the country. The Australian Financial Review, more assertive than ever under Michael Stutchbury’s watch, reported that its “overall audience reach is expanding rapidly as sharp increases in digital users more than offset modest falls in print circulation”. Adelaide’s The Advertiser was so chuffed with its performance — a 5.1% increase in readership over the year — that it splashed with the news on page three.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, which both experienced double digit declines after slashing marginal sales, didn’t find space in their news pages for the results. The Age’s business report, while noting Fairfax’s big print declines, stressed the dramatic growth in “digital sales” .
Digital sales, it’s important to note, relate to sales of the online replicas of the papers. Fairfax is still not charging for access to its extremely popular Age and SMH iPad apps — which have been downloaded over 300,000 times each — and is yet to erect paywalls on its websites.
The SMH, for example, has 22,074 average net digital-only sales over the June quarter — small beer in the larger scheme of things when it comes to reader numbers and revenue. Most of the Fairfax metros’ total digital sales come from combined print and digital subscriptions.
The Fin Review’s 150% increase in digital subscribers over the past year is more significant given it charges readers a hefty, albeit reduced, fee for the service.
Fairfax Media’s The Sydney Morning Herald saw big losses as unprofitable sales and freebies were rooted out. The paper shed 5.7% of its sales in the March quarter and 14.7% over the year to June. The Saturday edition was also weak, losing 14.7% over the year, but only 0.3% in the three months to June as the campaign to end uneconomic sales seems to have eased. The Sun-Herald lost 9.6% in sales in the March quarter, and a massive 18.7% over the year (79,599 copies — the largest drop of all the papers).
In Melbourne, the losses for The Age (Monday to Friday) were large for the year: down 14% year-on-year. The Saturday edition saw losses in the quarter (0.9%) and full year (13.2%). The Sunday Age also lost ground, down 5.8% in the quarter and 14.6% in 2011-12.
The Australian Financial Review, with less dodgy copies to cut, held up better than the metros, but still posted declines. Average weekday sales slipped by 3.7% over the year to 71,061 copies while Saturday circulation dropped 5% to 75,575. The Canberra Times saw weekly losses of 3.0% for the quarter and 7.8% for the year. The Saturday paper shed 8.4% over the full year. The Sunday edition saw losses of 7.9% over the year.
For News Limited, The Australian‘s improvement over Monday to Friday over the past quarter was a rare bit of good news. The Oz posted a 0.7% weekday decline over the past year however, with sales of The Weekend Australian dropping by 2.6%.
Even better was the 4.1% gain for the Monday to Friday edition of the Daily Telegraph. It also had a small gain of 0.7% for the six months to June, but dropped 1.4% over the year. The Sunday Telegraph retained its title as the country’s biggest selling paper (610,253 copies), with a gain of 0.2% or 1,086 copies in the March quarter. So what’s this talk about editor Neil Breen being out of favour with CEO, Kim Williams?
In Melbourne, the Herald Sun again had losses. It shed 1.2% of its sales Monday to Friday, to 463,543 copies, which means it is still the biggest selling daily paper in the country. The paper lost just over 5% in the full year. The Sunday Herald Sun lost a sizeable 7.8% over the year.
In Brisbane, The Courier Mail shed 4.8% over the year and the Saturday edition was down a nasty 8% over the same period. In Adelaide, The Advertiser (Monday to Friday) lost 2.2% in the quarter and just 0.6% over the past year. In Hobart, The Mercury lost 6% over the quarter (Monday to Friday) and 7.5% for the year. Losses for the Saturday edition were also big: 4.1% for the quarter and 5.8% for the year. In Darwin, the colourful NT News had a good survey with the Monday to Friday edition adding 6.6% in the June quarter. In Perth, the standout though was The West Australian which lifted circulation by 0.2% over the year.
The magazine industry was a disaster zone — especially in the monthlies where 16 major titles recorded big losses. The most intriguing losses happened in the food and entertainment area where the sales figures of a number of leading magazines (all monthlies) resembled failed soufflés by the end of June. Gardening also came up covered in weeds, while fashion titles underperformed. Home and lifestyle titles did surprisingly well.
The success of TV cooking challenges hasn’t helped food magazines — sales in the category dropped 7.1% in the six months to June. MasterChef magazine shed just over 21% over the past half year. And three other NewsLife food-related mags suffered notable losses: Recipes+, the ABC’s Delicious and Australian Good Taste. ACP Magazines saw a 2.0% fall for its flagship publication Gourmet Traveller in the year.
In the competitive weeklies battle, the category lost 4.8% of total sales in the full year, which could signal the big sales losses of the past five years are slowing. ACP’s Woman’s Day had a rough half-year (down 3.2%) but rival New Idea did better, losing just 0.6%. Also for ACP, Grazia, Take 5, OK! and NW were all down. Pacific fared better, with its Famous title adding 5.1% for the June quarter.
The flagship Australian Women’s Weekly ended June selling 465,477 copies a month after the loss of 1.0% of its sales in the six months to June and 5.3% over the full year. Among fashion titles, Pacific’s Marie Claire lost 2.4% in the half-year while stablemate Instyle shed 1.9%. ACP’s Harper’s Bazaar and Madison had losses.
Perhaps the most interesting story is at NewsLife’s Vogue Australia, which saw small gains. Makes you wonder why management got rid of long-time editor Kirstie Clements and replaced her with the editor of Harper’s, Edwina McCann. Clements seems to have been sacked for being a winner.