The weekday editions of The Daily Telegraph, The Courier-Mail and The West Australian have increased the number of discounted copies they give to hotels, airlines and schools in the year to March 2015, which has helped to limit their circulation declines, a Crikey analysis of the March quarter circulation data released last Friday shows.

For several years, the audit bureau has required mastheads to disclose how much of their circulation went cheap or free to airlines, hotels or schools. Most major titles use bulk sales to hotels and other accommodation businesses, airlines, education and “bundled” sales to bolster their sales each day and week. These “sales”, especially those at hotels and airlines, are typically given free to consumers, though the institutions providing them do pay a fee, usually heavily discounted.

Most Australian mastheads have, over the past year, decreased their reliance on these cheap sales to boost circulations, with a few notable exceptions. But even though some News Corp mastheads, such as The Australian, have decreased their cheap copies for circulation (in the Monday-to-Friday Oz’s case, from 20,831 to 18,710, including bundled digital/print sales), the company’s titles remain some of the most reliant on these giveaways and cheap sales for reach.

A staggering one in five copies of the Monday-to-Friday edition of the Oz were still circulated through non-standard sales arrangements, according to this quarter’s figures. As a proportion of total sales, this is almost steady on last year — the Monday-to-Friday edition went from having 20,831 non-standard sales (including 1688 bundled digital/print editions) to 18,710 such sales this year. This took the Oz’s reliance on cheap sales from 18.69% to 17.96% total circulation — which, despite the decrease, leaves it the most reliant masthead on such sales nationally.

But the Monday-to-Friday edition of the The Australian Financial Review almost matches The Australian in the share of these non-newsstand, non-subscription sales. The masthead sold cheaply or gave away, on average, 9045 such daily copies in the first quarter of 2015 — which is 16.11% of its total circulation. That’s a figure above last year’s, when just 15.39% of its circulation came in this manner — the AFR’s non-standard sales declined at a slower rate than its circulations did over the year. This is in contrast to Fairfax’s other major papers, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

The SMH had just 5352 non-standard daily sales over the first quarter of 2015, with most of these going to hotels and airlines. That’s 4.77% of total circulation — down from 5.48% last year. Meanwhile, The Age‘s discounted copies comprised just 2.83% of total circulation, down from 3.03% last year. Both papers have suffered sharp circulation declines over the year, but the number of discounted copies they gave away has fallen even faster. Fairfax Media has been eliminating these non-standard sales over the last three years to produce what it says are “clean” circulation figures.

Only a handful of mastheads actually sold more discounted copies in the March 2015 quarter than the same one last year, though some mastheads kept such sales steady while standard circulation declined, increasing their reliance on cheap sales to hold circulations up. Titles to actually increase non-standard circulation over the period were:

  • The Australian Financial Review Weekend (from 5568 to 5912 non-standard sales);
  • The weekday edition of The Daily Telegraph (16,786 to 21,321, with major growth arising from sales to schools and universities);
  • The weekday edition of the NT News (1370 to 1902, due to increased school sales), The Courier-Mail (which almost doubled its non-standard circulation from 6802 to 11,564, due to nearly 6000 more sales in schools);
  • The weekday editions of The West Australian (from 12,304 non-standard sales to 18,354);
  • The Saturday Daily Telegraph (from 19,129 to 22,642), the Saturday NT News (from 1003 to 1495);
  • The Saturday Courier-Mail (another near-doubling in non-standard circulation, from 4658 to 9163);
  • The Sunday Telegraph (22,264 to 25,402),
  • the Sunday Territorian (885 to 1388); and
  • Queensland’s Sunday Mail (6507 to 10,515).

With the exception of the AFR Weekend and The West Australian, all the titles above are News Corp tabloids. Because all papers are suffering from falling total circulations, these increases have left these titles more reliant on non-standard sales for subscriptions.

The top 10 newspapers by share of total print sales to airlines, hotels, schools, bundled events etc (excluding digital only subscriptions) were:

  1. The Australian, Monday to Friday: 104,165 copies sold a day in the March quarter, including 18,710 sales to airlines, hotels, etc — 17.96% share of the total print sales;
  2. The Australian Financial Review, Monday to Friday: 56,160 copies sold, including 9045 sales to airlines, hotels etc — 16.1% of total print sales;
  3. NT News, Monday to Friday: 13,548 copies sold, including 1902 to airlines, hotels etc — 14.04% of total print sales;
  4. The West Australian, Monday to Friday: 153,763 copies sold, 18,354 to airlines, hotels etc — 11.94% of total print sales;
  5. The Australian Financial Review Weekend: 61,911 copies sold, 5912 sales to airlines hotels etc — 9.55% of total print sales;
  6. The Weekend Australian: 230,182 copies sold, 19,688 to airlines, hotels etc — 8.55% share;
  7. The Daily Telegraph Saturday: 265,111 copies sold, 22,642 sales to airlines, hotels etc — 8.54% share of total print sales;
  8. The Daily Telegraph, Monday to Friday: 254,895 copies sold, 21,321 sales to airlines, hotels etc — or 8.34% share of total print sales;
  9. NT News Saturday: 18,999 copies sold, including 1495 sales to hotels, airlines etc — or 7.87% of total print sales; and
  10. The Courier-Mail, Monday to Friday: 153,763 copies sold, 11,564 to airlines hotels schools etc — 7.52% of total print sales.

Among the many magazines, two stood out (both published by News): Vogue Australia (14,167 copies to hotels, etc, or 27.7% of total print sales in the March quarter of 51,019) and Vogue Living (8386 copies to hotels, airlines, etc, or 20.2% of total print sales of 41,480 in the quarter).

Bauer Media’s high-end women’s fashion mag, Harper’s Bazaar, had sales of 52,910 print copies in the quarter, with 11,670, or 18.9% of total sales going to airlines, hotels, etc. And Pacific Magazines’ Marie Claire had sales of 80,618 copies, with, 600 going to hotels, airlines, etc, or 11.9% of total print sales.