Newspaper advertising revenue has declined by a massive $120 million over the past year, according to the latest data from media buying agencies. And, to make matters worse for traditional print publishers, the corresponding growth in digital spending isn’t coming close to making up for the shortfall.
National newspapers The Australian and The Australian Financial Review have been hardest hit, with year-to-date ad revenue down 19.4% — or $9.8 million — on the corresponding period last year.
The most recent quarter has been particularly calamitous: ad revenue for The Oz and AFR was down a whopping 26.5%, or $5 million, on last July-September according to the latest Standard Media Index figures, which record advertising bookings through media agencies. This compares to a 4.3% average decline across all media networks over the past quarter.
As Crikey again highlights today, the national papers have been particularly affected by a federal government edict, handed down in July, that all federal public service jobs should only be advertised online.
However, the news is hardly rosy for metro and regional papers: year-to-date ad revenue for the metros is down by 13.7% ($87 million) and 9.5% at the regionals. Consumer magazines have performed even worse, shedding 15% of their ad takings.
The big winner has been digital, which is up 21% on last year — but this isn’t equating to big profits for traditional publishers, such as News and Fairfax, despite the popularity of their websites. Fairfax Digital’s impressive-sounding 14.3% year-on-year gain equates to $8 million in extra revenue; News Digital’s 5% uptick equals $2 million in extra dough.
That is to say, of the $120 million in ad expenditure that left the newspaper market since January, only 8% has come back to News and Fairfax through online advertising. The real winners from the structural shift towards digital are the search engines, niche sites and, increasingly, social media platforms such as Facebook.
That’s something paywall sceptics — who favour a Guardian-style gratis business model — should bear in mind. The Australian claims to have 30,000 overall paying online subscribers. If 25,000 of them are paying for a $156-a-year digital pass, that equates to almost $4 million in extra revenue — a welcome addition, but not nearly enough to make up for the money lost from reduced circulation and print advertising.
The other big winner in the latest figures is subscription TV, where year-to-date agency bookings are up 13.4%. This compares to a 4% drop for metro TV and a 2% drop for metro radio.
Mat Baxter, CEO of media buying agency UM, tells Crikey the strong results for subscription TV and digital shows the growing demand among clients for “highly targeted” advertising. “Subscription TV is really coming into its own; it’s becoming the third TV network,” he said.
He reckoned the decline in the print market has been largely driven by the poor performance of retailers such as David Jones and Myer: “The newspaper market is heavily reliant upon retail and when retail is hurting newspapers take the hit. And retail is hurting.”