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ABCs: The Australian slides below 100,000 copies for the first time

News Corp’s The Australian has seen its Monday to Friday print circulation slip below the 100,000 as rival Fairfax Media masthead, The Australian Financial Review, dropped below 50,000.

According to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, national broadsheet The Australian had a March to June / Monday to Friday print circulation of 99,027 – a year-on-year decline of 2.50% – down from 101,615 in the same period last year.

The Australian

Andrew Jaspan, editor of The Conversation and former editor of The Age, suggested that the figure is meaningless and “nobody really cares anymore” about the circulation figures.

“It’s kind of ‘so what’? What does below or above 100 really mean anymore?” he said. “Nobody really cares anymore, we’ve moved into a post-circulation age, nobody really cares or knows if these numbers are robust or not.

“That’s just the trajectory all newspapers are on. There’s a general decline everywhere to reading content on paper. Should we be surprised? No. Does it matter? Not really, it’s just a trend.”

A News Corp spokesperson focused on the broadsheet’s EMMA, which measures total audience, results when asked if the decline was a disappointment.

“The EMMA results show The Australian has improved its print audience by 3.6% compared with last year. In addition, the ABC data shows digital subscriptions are up almost 12% compared with last year. The Australian has a total paid audience of over 178,000 – this base is growing and transitioning,” the said.

It was a bigger drop for Fairfax’s AFR, which saw its circulation slide by 12.80% from 57,243 to 49,900.

Sticking with Fairfax Media, the Sydney Morning Herald saw its Monday to Friday print circulation dive below the 100,000 mark for the first time, after posting a circulation decline of 8.20%.

Sydney Morning Herald

The Sydney paper was, on average, selling 107,291 copies each week day during the March to June quarter of last year; however, during the same time this year the paper was only shifting on average 98,472 copies a day during the week.

The Age also posted a Monday to Friday decline of 7.8%, dropping from 100,339 last year to 92,481.

A Fairfax Media spokesperson said: “Reductions in print circulation are the expected outcome from our focus on profitable publishing and is yet another demonstration of consumers’ changing preferences. The continuing shift to digital, combined with our remaining print readership, sees our audience now being 13.3m. It has never been larger.”

Fairfax Media has made its intentions in print quite clear, with the company emphasising its digital strategy and suggesting that it is “inevitable” that the publisher will axe the Monday to Friday print editions of both the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Speculation suggests the publisher will move ahead with the drastic decision before the year is out; however, no timeline was put in place at the company’s recent financial results presentation.

Greg Hywood, CEO at Fairfax Media, told investors: “In terms of digital-only publishing, we have been pretty clear that we will do it when it is beneficial to the business and when it meets consumer demand. Looking at these [financial] results we are not there yet but inevitably we will be.

“Our duty is to maximise the cash we get out of [print]. Having said that, we are spending our time, energy and focus on building our business model and when the time is right [closing print] is what we will do.”

greg hywood

Fairfax Media also did not report any digital figures, having withdrawn from the digital audit last week and while News Corp has questioned the validity of the metric, it has made no move to withdraw yet.

Damian Eales, managing director – metro and regional publishers for News Corp Australia, told The Australian: “The Fairfax action raises the question about the validity of the whole audit process going forward – digital and print.

“The reality is that media buyers and advertisers aren’t interested in circulation. They plan media based on the audience that reads a paper, not the number of papers printed.”

Eales asserts the industry favours The Readership Works’ Enhanced Media Metrics Australia figures, which measures readership rather than circulation.

Eales told The Australian: “Audience numbers are released monthly for every paper, even down to the section within the newspaper through EMMA. Having a circulation number is the equivalent of counting how many computers are switched on in the country as opposed to understanding who actually saw your digital ad.”

According to the audit figures, The Australian increased its digital subscriptions by 11.8% from, 70,698 in the March to June quarter of 2015 to 79,018 in this quarter.

A News Corp spokesperson said: “For The Australian, of the 79,000 digital subscriptions only 9,856 are packaged. This means the vast majority are digital-only subscriptions, and is further demonstration of a transitioning audience.”

The Weekend Australian had a similar increase – up 11.6% from 70,798 to 78,997.

Jaspan said: “The problem with the digital numbers is, if you look at the increase in the Monday to Friday – and then the Saturday Australian – the increase is almost the same in percentage terms, which suggests to me they’re just selling across the six days anyway.”

News Corp’s Herald Sun had a dramatic increase of 23.40%, with digital subscribers growing from 59,545 last year to 73,470.

Eagles Drug Hell Herald Sun frontpage

While News Corp subscriptions allow access to its suite of metro products – with the exception of The Australian – the audit calculates the subscription on point of entry and News Corp refuses to release digital subscription data for the Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail and Adelaide Advertiser.

News Corp declined to comment on whether the publisher would withdraw from the audit or if it would consider submitting its other mastheads to the audit.

Returning to the Monday to Friday print circulations, it was the Canberra Times which experienced the greatest decline, down by 11.5% from 19,492 to 17,244.

News Corp’s Daily Telegraph saw its Monday to Friday circulation slip by 6.9%, from 256,835 to 2930,018, while the Herald Sun saw its circ dip by 3.9% from 344,061 to 330,766, but it remains the highest-selling Monday to Friday newspaper.

The Northern Territory News was down 9.5% from 14,214 to 12,870; The Courier Mail slid by 5.3% from 155,282 to 147,122; and The Advertiser was down 7.10% from 130,136 to 120,931.

The Mercury saw its Monday to Friday circulation drop by 3.70% from 31,627 to 30,452 and the West Australian declined 9.30% from 157,011 to 142,393.

Moving on to the Saturday editions, it was Seven West Media’s West Australian that posted the greatest decline, with its circulation slipping by 12.40% from 265,143 to 232,176.

The Canberra Times Saturday edition dipped from 30,280 to 26,894 – a drop of 11.20% – while The Daily Telegraph declined by 4.50% from 244,587 to 233,546.

Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald Saturday paper posted a decline of 6.30% from 199,472 to 186,918; while The Age dipped 7.20% from 172,280 to 159,801.

The Northern Territory News dropped 12.5% from 19,709 to 17,252; The Courier Mail dipped by 4.80% from 188,217 to 179,149; and The Advertiser’s Saturday circulation slid by 5.2% from 171.730 to 162,731.

The Mercury was down by 6.20% from 43,612 to 40,918. The Herald Sun posted a Saturday circulation of 335,232, down from 357,230 – a decline of 3.50%.

Amongst the Sunday editions, it was Fairfax Media’s Sun-Herald that posted the greatest decline, with its circulation down 11.10% from 212,280 to 188,806, while the Sunday Age declined 8.20%, from 139,989 to 128,478.

The Sunday Telegraph remains the highest-selling Sunday masthead with a circulation of 410,137 – down from 439,926 in the March to June quarter of last year.

The Canberra Times posted a Sunday circulation of 18,305 from 20,312 last year, a decline of 9.90%; while The Sunday Territorian was down 6.10% from 15,144 to 14,214.

Queensland’s Sunday Mail was down 6.90% from 342,381 to 318,830, while South Australia’s Sunday Mail was down 2.70%, from 205,643 to 200,103.

The Sunday Tasmanian posted a circulation decline of 4.90% from 40,916 to 38,925. The Sunday Herald Sun was down 3.90% from 400,657 to 384,993, whereas the Sunday Times was down 4.80% from 193,842 to 184,486.

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