ABCs: Fairfax’s digital subscribers drop while print subscriptions continue downward trajectory

Digital subscriptions for Fairfax Media’s two main newspapers dropped quarter-on-quarter according to the latest audit measurements, as its rivals at News Corp continue to make steady but unspectacular gains.

In the July to September quarter The Age slipped backwards by 489 subscribers compared to the June quarter, while the Sydney Morning Herald dipped by 236 subs according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures.

News Corp’s two papers in the digital circulation audit, The Australian and The Herald Sun, gained 2,420 and 4,070 respectively, the latter buoyed by its coverage of the AFL finals period, but both still lag the Fairfax numbers significantly.

The poor digital performance comes as print circulations continued their rapid descent across the board, a fact noted by Fusion Media principal Steve Allen. “The fact that digital subs have in the last five audits not made up for the losses of hardcopy circulation is disappointing,” he told Mumbrella.

“Nevertheless when you look at the total masthead it’s not a bad pattern – a little over 5 per cent down for all the metropolitan and national newspapers.”

The Age reported 136,009 digital subscribers for the quarter, while the Sydney Morning Herald had 139,752. 

Asked about the digital declines a Fairfax Media spokesperson once again backed the newspaper industry-backed readership metric EMMA as a more relevant barometer of performance.

“Paid circulation metrics alone aren’t reflective of the large-scale cross-platform audiences we reach.  We focus on total masthead readership which reflects our print, web, mobile/tablet audiences,” the spokesperson said.  

For the News Corp titles The Australian’s Monday to Friday digital subs grew by 3.3 per cent to sit at 73,118, while the Herald Sun climbed by 6.39 per cent to crack the 60k mark (63,615).



News Corp Australia CEO Peter Tonagh said in a statement: “We are encouraged by the latest data release from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, which shows acceleration in the growth of our digital subscriptions, and some stabilisation of print circulation.”

Asked why Fairfax digital subs have slowed, and even declined, Allen said it was the “natural period of consolidation” after driving hard in the space, especially after the launch of its paywall strategy in mid-2013.

“News have not really embraced digital with the exception of The Australian. Fairfax are driving it hard and have done so for five years,” he said.

“News Corp have a different strategy – they’re quite open about the fact that they think hard copy newspapers, for their kinds of titles, have a vital future and they’re not going to give them away or substantially subsidised by digital subs. 

They’re very resistant to going down that route. “So far that’s been a reasonable strategy though there have been some signs in this audit that might not be a successful strategy.

Just as there are signs in this audit for The West Australian that their resistance to digital might not hold the line in the future.” download

Seven West Media’s West Australian, traditionally one of the steadier performers given its market dominance in Perth, saw a 5.10 per cent drop to fall below 150,000 copies sold, with 149,168.

Looking at the full year comparison, The Age’s digital subscriptions were up 1.6 per cent Monday to Friday and 1.4 per cent for the Saturday edition. Digital subs for the Sunday Age were also up 1.30 per cent.

However the print edition suffered with print subs for the Monday to Friday edition down 9.9 per cent, sliding below 100,000. Subscriptions to the Saturday paper slid by 7.6 per cent and The Sunday Age declined by 8.5 per cent.

It was a similar story for the Sydney Morning Herald with Monday to Friday digital subscriptions up 5.1 per cent year on year, with subs for the Saturday edition up 5 per cent and subscriptions to the Sun-Herald up 4.9 per cent.

However for the print edition it was a different story, with Monday to Friday sales down 10.3 per cent to settle on 104,833.

The Sun-Herald struggled the most, with subs down 12.5 per cent while subs for the Saturday edition were down 8.4 per cent.

Fairfax’s national business newspaper the Australian Financial Review had a 8.7 per cent fall on weekdays, while its weekend edition shed 40 copies from its circulation to settle on 55,314.

News Corp’s broadsheet national paper The Australian clung on above the 100,000 copies mark despite circulation dipping by 4.7 per, to 101,040 print copies shifted for the July-September period.

The Weekend Australian also slid, with subscriptions down by 3.4 per cent to 223,526 copies sold. It was a more positive story for the digital subscriptions, with digital subs for the Monday to Friday Australian up by 11.5 per cent, cracking into the 70k region, with subs for the weekend edition also up 11.6 per cent.

“The one outstanding result is the weekend nationals – both the Fin Review Weekend and the Weekend Australian, relative to everything else that’s going on in this audit and relative to the recent past, they’re pretty good results,” Allen said. 

While Melbourne’s Herald Sun’s digital subscriptions were up 26 per cent year-on-year, its print subscriptions all declined by at least 6 per cent, with the paper now selling 335,235. It still remains by some way the largest circulating newspaper in Australia.

Among its metropolitan tabloid titles News Corp still refuses to release digital subscription data for the Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail and Adelaide Advertiser. Portfolio-CanberraTimes-c2

Looking across the weekday print editions, Fairfax Media’s Canberra Times had the biggest year-on-year fall, down by 17.5 per cent to slip below the 20,000 mark with 18.81 per cent.

News Corp’s Sydney tabloid the Daily Telegraph saw its print subscriptions slide by 7.2 per cent but still stayed above the 250,000 line with a circulation of 251,710.

Hobart paper The Mercury’s circulation held at 30,952 after a decline of 7.1 per cent.

Among the Saturday papers The Canberra Times posted the greatest decline, with its circulation slipping below 30,000 after experiencing a 10.5 per cent decline year-on-year.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Saturday edition had the second greatest declines, sliding below 200,000 after losing 8.4 per cent while The Daily Telegraph’s Saturday paper slipped below the 250,000 mark shedding 9.9 per cent of its circulation to 244,863.

Brisbane’s Courier-Mail, owned by News Corp, saw its circulation slip below 200,000 to settle on 193,895 after a decline of 6.3 per cent. Northern Territory News’ Saturday paper also slipped below the 20,000 circulation mark after experiencing a 6.5 per cent year-on-year decline.

The West Australian’s Saturday edition proved the most resilient posting the smallest decline, with its circulation numbers only slipping by 3.2 per cent to remain just above the 250,000 mark with a circulation of 251,489.

Amongst the Sunday papers the Northern Territory’s Sunday Territorian was the only paper to buck the declines trend with a boost in circulation of 3 per cent.  However it wasn’t enough to crack the 16,000 figure, settling at 15,923. The Sun-Herald posted the biggest declines – 12.5 per cent – but managed to stay above the 200,000 circulation mark. News Corp’s Sunday Telegraph remains the highest selling Sunday paper with a circulation of 437,560.

Miranda Ward


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