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Aug 16, 2013

Newspaper circulation results shocker: the contagion edition

Newspaper circulation figures are out for the quarter and it's bad, bad news across the board. No paper is immune from the dramatic decline in sales. But there are a few magazines holding their own ...


The latest newspaper circulation results offer a grim reality check for both Fairfax and News Corporation Australia. Fairfax’s metropolitan papers continue to bleed sales, despite the shift to commuter-friendly compact formats. News’ biggest-selling papers recorded unprecedented double-digit circulation drops year-on-year. And monopoly status is offering no protection for regional papers, which are rivalling their big-city brethren for circulation declines.

How strange it is to remember Australian papers were holding relatively steady only three years ago, bucking the downward trend in the US. Now we’ve reached the point of contagion: total newspaper circulation slumped by 11.2% year-on-year in the June quarter, with no papers picking up paid sales.

The industry has responded to the results with a mixture of silence and what looks like magical thinking. News Corp kept schtum on the figures; so did industry group The Newspaper Works, which will no longer comment on print-only data. News and Newspaper Works are hyping the Monday arrival of new cross-platform readership measure emma (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia), which has been developed for the industry by Ipsos Australia. Some advertisers may wonder about paying the piper to call the tune, but that’d be too cynical, wouldn’t it?

The Australian reports the figures today under the overly optimistic headline “Digital news surge offsets print’s decline”. There’s no doubt the Oz‘s digital subscription model is performing strongly with 51,213 sales — up from 45,869 last quarter. But otherwise there’s little to crow about, with the country’s top-selling paper, the Herald Sun, recording a meagre 30,624 digital sales for the quarter. And in private Fairfax big-wigs aren’t doing cartwheels about the money coming in from The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald metered paywalls. The next survey will give better insights into how News and Fairfax’s paywall strategies are faring.

In the land of the dead trees, Fairfax Media recorded another poor quarter. The weekday Sydney Morning Herald was down 17% year-on-year to 141,699 and is now outsold by southern sibling The Age, which fell by 16.2% on weekdays to 142,050. The Saturday SMH (once overflowing with classified ads) slumped by 20.2% to 233,335; The Saturday Age fell by 14.7% to 203, 753. The SMH and The Age also shed copies quarter-on-quarter, showing any circ boost from the shift to compact was shortlived. Perennial under-performer The Sun-Herald fell by 20.4% and The Sunday Age slipped by 11.7%.

The Australian Financial Review fell by 6.8% to 66,220 on weekdays and by 14.7% on Saturdays (reversing an anomalous jump in the previous quarter).

Circulation for Fairfax’s regional papers also plummeted: The Canberra Times fell by 8.4% Mon-Fri to 26,153, The Newcastle Herald by 11.5% to 36,368 and The Illawarra Mercury by 15.7% to 18,229. Here are the average daily print circulation figures for the June quarter, compared to the same quarter for the previous year:

It was almost as demoralising at News Corp: no wonder Col Allan has been shipped back from New York to wave his supposedly magic wand. The Australian fell by 9.8% on weekdays year-on-year to 116,655; The Weekend Oz slumped by 10.8% to 254,891. A full 19% of the Oz’s sales are still in the accommodation, airline, education or bundled categories (compared to 13% at the AFR).

Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph posted its first double-digit year-on-year declines: the Tele fell by 11.2% on weekdays to 310,724 and by 10.6% on Saturdays. The Sunday Telegraph shed 11.2% to 541,749 a week. It was almost as ugly in Melbourne, where the Herald Sun dropped by 10.3% on weekdays to 416, 027. On Sundays the Hun was down 8.2%.

Brisbane’s Courier-Mail declined by 8.8% to 173,095 Monday to Friday while Adelaide’s The Advertiser slipped by 10% to 155,635. The Hobart Mercury was down 7% to 37,419. Seven West Media‘s West Australian was down by 8.7% on weekdays to 178,385 and by 3.8% on Saturdays. Here are the News Corp circulation figures:

Unlike in newspapers, you can find some winners among the normally blighted magazine sector. At least 15 magazines saw their sales rise in the year to June, with the home, garden and lifestyle sectors leading the way. News Corp’s NewsLife Media stable performed well, seeming to vindicate ousted CEO Kim Williams’ decision to put Nicole Sheffield in charge. NewsLifeMedia’s Vogue rose 0.4%, Vogue Living rose 1.8%, Delicious rose 5%, Country Style sold 1.5% more copies and Inside Out lifted its sales by 1.4%. Fairfax’s BRW had a nasty drop: 17.4% to only 33,900.

Among the big sellers though the news was gloomy, except for Australian Women’s Weekly (Bauer) which saw sales slip just 1.4% to 459,175. Woman’s Day (Bauer) lost 4.2% and Pacific Mags’ New Idea shed 4.4%. Other notable falls included 17%-plus plunges by Bauer’s Dolly and Cosmopolitan and a 25.9% decline for struggling lads’ mag Zoo Weekly. Craft and culture magazine Frankie was again a standout performer, posting a 10.7% jump to 64,931.

*Additional reporting by Glenn Dyer


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26 thoughts on “Newspaper circulation results shocker: the contagion edition

  1. paddy

    The death spiral continues.
    BTW It would be nice to know how Crikey’s going.

  2. Steven Haby

    It would also be interesting to check the numbers over the election period to see if there has been any change in the figures (print and online) particularly given News hard run against the government.

  3. Jean

    “there’s a few magazines which are holding their own”

    there are

    There’s not enough proofreading at Crikey
    Maybe there are not enough proofreaders 🙂

  4. TheFamousEccles

    Frankly, I’m over it. The sooner the dead tree media are gone, the better. Your lead pic speaks volumes for the impartiality of the Murdochracy.

    I am sure that the Coalition and the Murdochracy will find a way to saturate the on-line media with their propaganda, though it will take some time for that to kick in, so in the mean time I will enjoy the ability to read and learn what I want.

  5. tonyfunnywalker

    The sooner the trend focus’s towards zero the better we will be. The rubbish journalism with the odium of a garbage can and now News has the cheek to raise the price by 10%. News Ltd is now aversion – to be avoided at all costs.

  6. Rubio Diego

    Murdoch deserves this decline. does he think he can alienate half of his readership and not suffer any consequences.

    The sooner he goes broke, the better the world will be!


    I feel that someone has missed a major factor… all papers took a 20%+ price rise in 2012… the first for more than a decade for the leading Daily Telegraph.
    The sales $ may well be actually up.

    John Emmery

  8. The_roth

    My My soon shock jocks and TV news programs will have to do their own research rather than just regurgitating newspapers stories.

    I wonder what the tipping point will be when all those trees can breath a sigh of relief? But what will we wrap our fish and chips with?

  9. Stephen

    Fairfax is gone (thanks for that, Roger Corbett), and Guardian Australia is just not cutting it.

    And once he’s PM, Abbott will do everything in his power to neuter the ABC. It’s a grim prospect.

  10. Bill Hilliger

    The message …consider the journalistic, opinion writers and editorial content, it is plain to see that over time most people will not buy crappy products. If it wasn’t for the sport pages, there would be no sales at all. My library no longer stocks the Australian due to lack of interest by library patrons.

  11. Yclept

    Yes, goodbye Rupert. We stopped buying the M-F cocky cage liner a long time ago. My wife kept buying the Sunday one for the TV guide and since the election campaign bias got into full swing we now pay the extra for the TV Times. Good riddance, hope they go broke.

  12. Venise Alstergren

    JOHN EMMERY: Anyone attempting to be sanguine about the decline of the printed media should read the excellent book,
    “Fairfax: The Rise and Fall” Colleen Ryan, Melbourne University Press. Melbourne 2013.

  13. Bill Shakesy

    The deeply worrying thing about all this is what it means for the practice of journalism. The top down ‘shonking’ of credible, ethical practice, more evident than ever across the News Corp stable than I can remember in an election period points to a deadly concerted attack on the core basis of trust journalism owes as a fourth estate in a democratic society. Just how many journalists has this forced approach broken completely to the point the fourth estate as we esteem it should be, is no more?

  14. Alex Carter

    I’ve stopped reading any of these papers at all since the online edition of Adelaide Now went to a paywall.

    But I can still read the headlines and there’s nothing there that makes me want to pay. If anything there seems to be less local content and more filler from news.com.au.

  15. Raige Gnarlie

    There’s plenty of news out there, but the old newspaper houses no longer make news. Instead they lazily parrot whatever agenda the parties set for them for today’s talking points. Spin is cheaper than real news but who the hell wants to read it?

    Parties set agenda they think will win them the election. The newspapers have the power to ignore that and reset the agenda, but they don’t. Spin makes for a shallow news. I can tell all they are going to tell me by a quick skim of the front page. Why am I going to waste time buying a paper which has become a glorified election pamphlet?

    The rest is lifestyle which is abundant over the Internet. Lifestyle is not a local product. No home market advantage there. If they keep competing that route Fairfax will end up just another lifestyle magazine in the news stand. It doesn’t work for anyone else. Why do they think it can support them? Fairfax’s biggest competitor is looking like New Idea.

    So give us real news and analysis, by which I don’t mean commentary. I can make up my own mind so don’t need some opinionated AH to do it for me. Give me facts. Tell me something I don’t already know, and no more spin.

  16. prembrowne

    I agree Alex, I’ve stopped reading The Age full-stop since the paywall, and the headlines don’t interest me too much anyway. I just click on ABC or BBC (and Crikey of course!).

  17. Bill Hilliger

    The online Guardian is a good read; no pay-wall.

  18. Mike Flanagan

    Yes Bill H, the Guardian does fill an emptiness that opinionated scribllers have endeavored to fill without success.
    The above figures do not cover the impact on circulation figures since the arrival of the Guardian. Nor do they account for the maipulation evidenced in Murdoch’s history of boosting them through giveaways that the European auditors recently discovered.
    The figures indicate more and more of the populace are showing the disquiet and disdain at their arborcidal rants on behalf of their proprietors, as evidenced by their lack of popularity at your library and many others.
    We have had to experience six years or more of unrelenting dishonest characterisation of progressive politics and a complete lack of analysis of the alternative on offer.
    I haven’t seen much material from Peter Hartcher since he was so ‘impertinent’ to ask a queation on Climate Change policies at the so called debate. Gina must have been apoplectic at his ‘impertinence’.

  19. Mike Flanagan

    Eric Beecher;
    You could save a considerable amount of money sacking your editors as your mother moderator does a lot of the work on the comments.
    Judging by the adverising campaigns filling my email box for the past month or so I would suggest to Paddy there is a very good reason why Crikey figures are not published.

  20. Sir Lunchalot

    People dont have time for papers, fighting for survival in these terrible economic times in Australia. The Green Left Echo Chamber may be OK, as they are online

  21. Bumpkin

    I love ‘freemium’ pay walls such as The Age and Hun have introduced. This means that they are controlled from my end, not from the server end as is The Oz. I can fiddle with things my end. I can defeat any cookie that is counting the number of articles I have read this day/week/month, and reset them to zero and so keep reading. Little web add-ons like ‘Cookie Manager +’ and ‘Self Destructing Cookies’ make it so easy. Or I can edit them manually if I wanted to. The punters will soon catch on. I don’t think pay walls are the way to make money.

  22. Mark Webb

    As always with these figures some rezearch is required to find the true picture.

    Digital subscription figures are being deliberately massaged to hoodwink investors and advertisers.

    Both news and fairfax are running cheap 1 month trials of their paper subscriptions which come with free digital.
    This free digital s onted in te figures as paid igital subscriptions inflating the figures.

    Not disimilar to the inflated paper numbers from cheap student uni deliveries / dumping a few years ago that it took the press and advertisers years to cotton on to.

  23. arnold ziffel

    ‘“there’s a few magazines which are holding their own”
    there are
    There’s not enough proofreading at Crikey
    Maybe there are not enough proofreaders’
    if you insist on nitpicking, the construction is actually ok – verb-subject agreement, y’know

  24. MJPC

    Todays newspaper is tomorrows fish and chip wrapping (or used to be) and the quality of some journalism deserves it to be.
    Newspapers used to inform, now they tell us yesterdays news. With Abbott having no funds for public transport we will all soon be driving to work on all these new roads; no time for reading the daily news.

  25. pritu

    Murdoch’s News Ltd have been pumping out political vomit for the past 30 years. And expecting us to pay to lap it up!

  26. Cass Silva

    It was clear from last evenings Q&A (Bowen/Hockey) that the Libs continue to underestimate the intelligence of the general public. Justifying paying the PPL to high salaried women was on the basis that there are very few women earning that salary! Joe quoted around 1% of all employed women, and backed it up with the falacious argument that it is in line with their Annual/Sick leave entitlements. There is no comparison between annual / sick leave entitlements and the cost of having a baby these days. $75,000 would go along way to providing a nanny, whereas $8000 dollars would hardly cover the diapers and formula. So how can this scheme be equitable when those that don’t need assistance get 7/8th more than those who need assistance.
    Then Joe went on about us having to save by cutting spending. In my world, If households stop spending this will result in more job losses not more jobs. We avoided the global recession because we kept people working and yes this meant government spending, a far better scenario than mass unemployment that Europe has experienced over the past 2 years. Yes there were some managerial stuff ups but this doesn’t change the facts that more jobs were created.
    All of us have mortgages, a point made by Bowen, and rather than looking at it as a debt most of us look at it as a saving in dead (rental) money and long term security. Nobody knows what the future holds, recent discoveries have found that the north may have vast untapped oil fields. If this and other discoveries are found we may find ourselves back in another mining boom and all these scare tactics were for nothing!
    As a byline, full marks to those in the audience that posed such relevant and succinct questions showing up the level of 99% of journalists in today’s media whose questions are aimed at an audience of 10 year olds.
    As far as the Polls go, how can Rudd (3 weeks ago) go from being preferred Prime Minister to now Abbott becoming the preferred PM. Seems to me that the Labour policy, since Rudd, has been publicly accepted as workable policy, which suggests there is something fishy about the whole Poll thing.


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