It’s only been seven months since The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald introduced metered paywalls, but Fairfax has leapfrogged ahead of News Corp in snatching up digital subscribers.

The Australian, on the other hand, introduced paywalls in late 2011, with stablemates the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph following in March 2012. But despite the late start, Fairfax’s titles have already amassed more digital subscribers than their News Corp rivals, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released this morning. In the December 2013 quarter, just over 57,000 people subscribed to The Australian online, and another 39,380 subscribed to the Herald Sun. Over at Fairfax, 120,043 people have subscribed to The Sydney Morning Herald and another 117,918 to its Melbourne cousin.

Not all newspapers have chosen to reveal their digital circulations to the bureau, and the digital figures for Sydney’s Daily Telegraph are conspicuously absent. But the lower number of digital subscribers for News Corp’s titles must be grating, given its paywall is relatively cheaper (to subscribe to the Oz or the Herald Sun is $4 a week, compared to Fairfax’s $6 to read either the Age or SMH), not to mention more rigid (Fairfax allows readers to read 30 articles every month for free; News Corp does not).

Digital subscriptions are still growing for all titles, one bright spot in a circulation story streaked with red. All large Australian newspapers reported large yearly declines in their print circulation. The Monday-to-Friday editions of The Age and The Australian Financial Review were unusual in losing only about 6% of their print circulation — many newspapers recorded double-digit declines.

The Monday-to-Friday edition of The Australian lost 8.3% of its circulation, now selling just 112,269 copies on average weekday and 242,158 copies on the weekend. The other national paper, The Australian Financial Review, was down 6.4% to 62,455 during the week.

Australia’s best-selling newspapers, The Sunday Telegraph, recorded a 12.4% decline over the year, while sales slumped 12% for its weekday edition to an average of 286,683. The Herald Sun, which sells more copies than the Tele during the week, lost 12.3% of its circulation over 2013, selling 394,597 copies on average. Its Saturday edition lost 11.1% to 395,105 copies.

The newspaper category as a whole declined 11.4% in 2013, a figure comparable to the total decline in magazine sales, which was 11.5%.

But there was some black to be found in the magazine figures. The home and lifestyle magazine category — featuring titles such as Better Homes and Gardens, Home Beautiful and Grand Designs Australia — grew 1.4% in total.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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