So much for transparency.

Earlier this year, NewsMediaWorks, the Australian print media’s industry group revealed a new metric for the embattled industry and took a big step forward so far as transparency is concerned by revealing quarterly revenue data, broken down into figures for print, digital and newspaper-inserted magazines for 2015, the first quarter with comparatives to allow readers to assess the performance of each group. The release included a helpful table chock full of data. Naturally, the prognosis for news was not all that hot — but the print industry sill took around $2.5 billion in revenues from all sources in 2015. And the move was still brave.

The UK print sector releases independently audited monthly circulation figures (Australia’s figures are quarterly), while the American industry has run away from disclosure. The Newspaper Association of America abandoned posting quarterly revenue figures in 2014 after more than 40 years of doing so and, at the same time, the half-year circulation data for America’s 50 biggest newspapers vanished into the ether, never to appear again. It was an act of cowardice that the US industry refuses to talk about, and to further distance itself from, print. The association changed its name in early September to the News Media Alliance (dropping any reference to “paper”).

In Australia, NewsMediaWorks released the June quarter and 2015-16 financial year data on July 29, which again included a helpful table.

But yesterday there was a significant change in the September quarter release. It consisted of just a bald statement, with one figure of note ($2.3 billion) for the year to the end of September, no quarterly data and no breakdown into print, digital and inserted magazines, nor was there the handy table tabulating all the figures. And that $2.3 billion was little different to the $2.34 billion figure given in the July release.

“Australia’s news media sector has reported an annualised $2.3 billion in advertising revenue for the last four quarters, according to the latest News Media Index with data collated by SMI,” the October 31 released started.

“The News Media Index was announced in May this year and is a world-first partnership between Australia’s four largest news media publishers and Standard Media Index (SMI) to enhance commercial transparency for advertisers and investors.

“The index records all publisher print and digital revenue, as well as whole-of-industry revenue, and is independently verified by SMI.

“Print continues to dominate the sector accounting for 80 per cent of total ad revenue, with digital ad spend at 20 per cent, buoyed by a 34 per cent increase in programmatic bookings.

“In addition, premium news media websites are growing at nine times the industry average for content sites (excluding programmatic), increasing revenue by 10.8 per cent in the calendar year to date.”

Compared with the details released in May and July, this release is useless and nothing but a weak PR screed. Note the irony in the second paragraph of the release “to enhance commercial transparency for advertisers and investors.” Far from it. — Glenn Dyer

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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