Another bad Saturday for The Australian Financial Review‘s weekend edition. Not only were the number of ads low to non-existent for a 64-page paper, but the rival Weekend Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald had more display job ads than the AFR.

On top of that, the AFR was scooped by the SMH: it ran a confected story headlined “Swan’s surplus way behind: Forecast” based on the budget claims of Canberra-based consultants Macroeconomics. The firm, which boasts celebrity doomster Steve Keen in its ranks and appears to operate under the tagline “I can reach any star”, had predicted a $13.4 billion reversals in finances this year based on a $9 billion fall in revenue (in fact the fall was around $4 billion, this morning’s MYEFO numbers show). That this was labelled “exclusive” and run on page one was sad enough.

But it looked outright amateurish compared to the SMH‘s Saturday edition, which had the real thing in a Peter Martin story “Budget shock: $21b shortfall”. Martin discussed the nature of the revenue falls and size of the spending cuts and revenue measures the government would undertake to keep the surplus.

The weekend AFR had a total of 13 ads, five of which were house ads (Fairfax or AFR). Of the five pages of ads, it had around three pages of paying ads, or an ad ratio of 5%. And it had no display job ads at all in the weekend edition, whereas the SMH had 21 in its first section and the Weekend Australian 14 in its first section. One of the ads in the Oz was right up the AFR‘s alley: the head of government relations for the big gold miner, Newcrest.

Nearly all the jobs ads were for either the state governments or corporates. Some of these appeared in the smaller, 40-page Friday edition of the AFR (30 pages without the Review lift out, which is now eight pages instead of 12 previously, and the ad-rich Lifestyle lift out). Just why the weekend edition of the paper had 64 pages is puzzling, given it’s printing those extra pages at a loss.

And just why the AFR can’t do a deal with advertisers in the Friday paper for the same ads to appear on Saturday (by splitting the cost to the advertiser, but making the same amount for the single ad in Friday’s paper) is puzzling. It is a form of commercial suicide to try and maximise the profits or yield from the Friday edition, while publishing the weekend edition with hardly any ads. Both the SMH and Weekend Australian had other ads in their first section for retailers, liquor and real estate. The Weekend Oz had five house ads, the SMH had just two.

This morning’s editions of the national titles were again thin on ads. The AFR had a total of 22 ads, including five house or contra ads, three bank interest rate ads and eight property ads. The paper was 48 pages so the rough ad ratio was around 5.5 pages, excluding the house ads, or around 11%. At least that’s better than the two previous weeks. Call it “rivers of lead”.

The Oz was 36 pages, with 12 paying ads and four house ads. On the paying ads, a half page consisted of “general classified”and five bank interest rate ads. Three of the house ads were for the paper’s digital pass of the free ebook offer. The ad ratio of the paying ads was between 2.5 and three pages, or around 8%.

Maybe the nationals should start a campaign calling not just for another cut in interest rates again on November 6 but some fiscal stimulus to pump up their ad budgets.

Oh and things didn’t get any better for the AFR on the fiscal front: Martin again scooped it, providing details of the spending cuts and revenue measures the government announced in MYEFO this morning.

The AFR under Michael Stutchbury has been trying to mimic The Oz, taking a more visibly anti-Labor (and anti-labour) line, offering itself as a mouthpiece for the business élite and stacking on right-wing commentators like Mark Textor and a constant parade of Coalition MPs bagging Labor in its op-ed pages. But it’s doubtful aping The Oz‘s paltry ad revenues was in the strategic plan.

Peter Fray

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