ABCs: SMH drops 12%, rival accuses Fairfax of ‘abandoning’ print

The Sydney Morning Herald was the biggest major casualty in the latest round of figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, losing 12% of its weekday circulation in a year.

In another difficult period that saw newspaper circulations atrophy by 4% overall, the Fairfax title’s circulation fell from 209,644 to 184,613 between December 2010 and December 2011.

By contrast, The Herald’s main rival The Daily Telegraph fared reasonably, down by 1.84% to 347,722 between Monday and Friday.

Daily metro and national paper sales:

Q4_2011_m_to_fWeekend newspaper sales:


Paul Whittaker, editor of The Daily Telegraph attacked the performance of his rival in a press release saying: “These results prove that there is plenty of life left yet in print even though our main competitor has effectively abandoned the field for their print products.”

Australia’s largest circulating newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, was among a handful of winners. The title added over a thousand readers, nudging up its circulation by 0.18% to 618,950.

Its main competitor, the Sun-Herald fell by more than 8% to 406,470.

Neil Breen editor of The Sunday Telegraph said: “Never before has The Sunday Telegraph been so dominant over our competitor. To lead by more than 212,000 copies every week and have in excess of 60% market share are numbers we have aspired to over many years of effort.’’

In a survey that made for gloomy reading for Fairfax, the Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald was also among the biggest casualties, falling by 7.73% to 314,683.

The Age on Saturday, The weekday edition of The Age, The Sunday Herald Sun and The Courier Mail on Saturday also saw their circulations fall by around 6%.

The Australian Financial Review provided some reason for cheer for Fairfax, its weekend edition growing circulation by 3.7%. However, the publisher admitted this was mostly due to “the phasing of bumper editions”, and said it expected a decline in the next audit period.

News Limited will be well pleased with the performance of its mastheads, with the Monday-to-Friday edition of The Australian up 1.42% to 131,000 and the Weekend Australian up 1.28%.

Overall, Sunday newspapers suffered the most, down 4.61%. Metro, weekday and weekend were also down around 4%. However, Australia’s national newspapers showed signs of a slight rebound, gaining 0.25%.

The Newspaper Works CEO Tony Hale said the results were “within expectations” and reflected the poor retail environment.

In a press release, he said: “The easing in printed newspaper sales in the latest quarter shows the decline has stabilised, as we anticipated it would, and is in line overall with the previous two quarters.Put simply, the ABC printed newspaper figures do not paint a complete picture of newspaper consumption among Australians, who are turning to digital platforms in ever growing numbers.”

Fairfax was invited to respond to the comments about it abandoning print but did not do so.


  1. Mike
    10 Feb 12
    10:08 am

  2. Never mind all the comments from News Limited as always teeing off on their rival, how about some comment from Fairfax? Page 8 of Business Day in fact.

  3. nickatnights
    10 Feb 12
    10:23 am

  4. In the Surry Hills and Randwick area there are very few Herald’s left in any stores by about 3pm. I was unable to buy a copy yesterday or Tuesday.

    No wonder sales are down!

  5. Ted
    10 Feb 12
    10:58 am

  6. The numbers game is warming up. You can imagine board room rants of a Strangelove kind: “we must close the perceived audit-online reach superiority gap or the world will descend into decay!”
    Clearly News is pumping the black channels like airport bins and hotels. Fairfax has gone instead for the move the cheese option of mixing different inventory in a single audience puddle.
    Flim and flam.

  7. Point scoring doesn't score points
    10 Feb 12
    11:05 am

  8. Fairfax has publically stated that they will move away from unprofitable newspaper sales. Sure, News circulation may have gone up but “included” with my entry or bundled for a few cents with my iced cofee type sales are surely less valuable to both the publisher and the advertiser.

    ALL newspapers are suffering a decline in fully paid sales due to the reckless way that they approached online over a decade ago. All are looking (with varying success) at how to reinvent their business model. Top line circulation numbers are a meaningless way to compare the success of publishers and cheap point scoring does not add anything to intelligent debate.

  9. Devil's advocaat
    10 Feb 12
    12:01 pm

  10. Er….

    Top line circulation numbers are not meaningless.

    Then you would say that online stats are meaningless too?

  11. Devil's advocaat
    10 Feb 12
    12:05 pm

  12. …. oops pressed return.

    Because the Fairfax figures also include a ludicrous number of “Copy included in the price of your ticket etc”

    Just to go the Opera House and look at the huge stand of free SMHs – “Included in the price of your ticket” yet placed close to the Opera Bar and restaurants – no ticket required to get one.

  13. Devil's advocaat
    10 Feb 12
    12:11 pm

  14. But yes, Point scoring doesn’t score points, agree with you – ABC needs to split out the figures for actual paid for copies and ‘free with your tea’ copies.

  15. Red Bean
    10 Feb 12
    12:41 pm

  16. People still report on circ?

  17. mish
    10 Feb 12
    2:22 pm

  18. @Red Bean, yes.

  19. Paul Dovas - ABC
    10 Feb 12
    3:17 pm

  20. @ Devil’s advocaat, The ABC reports several additional categories that bring transparency to the headline numbers including Accommodation and Hotel Sales, Airline Sales, Bundled Sales, Event Sales, School Sales and Tertiary Education Subscription Sales.

    @ Red Bean, yes over 1,100 publications report audited circa numbers across the ABC and CAB.

  21. Ted
    10 Feb 12
    3:59 pm

  22. The critical numbers are paid sales because they reflect real consumer choices. Free online traffic is the opposite. We know that lots of juice is used to inflate both. We also know that News Ltd papers are taking a financial pounding. Fairfax reports in the weeks and judging by the audience metric hype we must assume they will be shocking.
    Unfortunately the problem is in the products. And it is showing.

  23. John Grono
    10 Feb 12
    7:24 pm

  24. Those “free copies” at events are actually technically “paid”. Because this is an arrangement with third parties (i.e. not the eventual recipient) primarily as a marketing exercise to generate trial to attempt to get new purchasers, they are broken out in reporting (and capped at 2%). Apparently a lot of these learned commentators haven’t had a good look at the actual reports or the data on the ABC data base.

    The issue of a “paid” copy is a vexed one. What if a $1.50 cover-price paper is sold for $1.45 – i.e. not full price, should it be counted as paid? What if it was $1.00? 75 cents? Where do you draw the line? Let’s say it is “over 50% of cover price” OK, do a deal at 76 cents and it counts the same as a $1.50 copy. Put bluntly, classifying byt price doesn’t work not matter how desirable it may be.

    That is why we classify the copies that qualify as “paid” in some way, and then allocate them into ‘buckets’ of different categories of sales – as Paul explained. Those that don’t qualify (e.g. NZ copies, returned copies, free copies etc) are removed. It is then up to the user to remove from the total those copies that are of limited value to their client’s campaign. As they say, the devil is in the detail – but please look at the detail first everyone.

  25. norma
    11 Feb 12
    12:19 pm

  26. Those free copies are paid! Nice work John Grono. Your next job is Minister for Communications in Syria.
    This is a similar approach to that of publishers in the US who subsequently found that the better course of action was to restate their numbers downward.
    Ridiculous attempts to now stew up all the print and digital numbers should be ignored. Fairfax would have you act as if the page read in the printed SMH is in any way comparable from an advertiser’s view with another page IMPRESSION in digital. It ain’t so.
    As the world “converges let’s remember that measurement is about selling to real people who buy things. Populations have not expanded in line with digital inventory. And let’s keep in mind the demographic: a product thrust in your hand at a cafe or footy game is not a product with which you are engaged.

  27. Paul Dovas
    11 Feb 12
    2:40 pm

  28. @ norma, ABC members, which includes publishers, advertisers and media agencies have invested considerable time and effort over the last five years to ensure that audited circulation data is robust, transparent and reflective of today’s commercial practices.

    Publishers are entitled to promote their publications however it doesn’t mean that the sale will be included in ABC reporting. Where the sale is included and it involves an arrangement such as entry into an event, it is also reported in the additional categories.

  29. Ann
    11 Feb 12
    8:15 pm

  30. There has been a serious shift in Fairfax’s renown political balance and that would account for a large chunk.

  31. ted
    12 Feb 12
    2:05 pm

  32. You appear to be ill-informed Norma. Yes there are free copies which technically qualify as paid copies, however they are broken out into categories for advertisers to see and presumably prescribe their own value to their worth.

  33. Devil's advocaat
    12 Feb 12
    4:46 pm

  34. Thanks Paul Dovas @ ABC

    Can you tell us here how many of the 184,613 copies of the SMH are “Accommodation and Hotel Sales, Airline Sales, Bundled Sales, Event Sales, School Sales and Tertiary Education Subscription Sales.”

    And how that proportion has increased or decreased since they’re previous audit of 209,644 copies?

    Also, where does the ABC stand on the enormous stand of SMHs at Sydney Opera House concourse where it says “Free with your ticket” but is in a public area outside the Opera House where no ticket is required? Surely these are not paid for?

  35. Craig
    12 Feb 12
    6:06 pm

  36. Why does the ABC release its data in inaccessible (and therefore illegal) formats rather than publishing in accessible and machine readable formats?

    There is no extra cost to do so, it might even cost less.

  37. Paul Dovas- ABC
    12 Feb 12
    10:22 pm

  38. @ Devil’s advocaat, I’d be happy to help you with the detail you are after, and would like to suggest we take this offline – can you contact This offer applies to all mumbrella readers.

    I couldn’t comment on the Opera House arrangement you have described other than to say that the ABC Rules and Guidelines are quite specific on what constitutes an Event Sale.

    @ Craig, ABC data is available to members in a variety of formats including pdf, xls and csv. Can you elaborate on what you mean?

  39. norma
    13 Feb 12
    1:20 pm

  40. ted, I can understand why advertisers would want to have something prescribed (or even proscribed) after reading about audience measurement. but I think you mean ascribe? :)

  41. Sepher Raziel
    14 Feb 12
    2:30 am

  42. There are two fundamental reason your printed sales are down.

    #1) Print is dead. Online gives you access to far better journalism and is instant.

    #2) It is a matter of trust. It has become increasingly evident that the printed media’s delivery of news is variably accurate at best and sensationalist rhetoric at worst.

    There you go, Now you can pay me the big bucks for pointing out the bloody obvious like this “Reporter”. No reference to where this data has been derived from, lots of quotes without reference and no name for accountability. I miss journalists.