ABCs: Newspapers continue print declines with mixed results on digital subscriptions

theage compactSales of Fairfax’s weekday print titles The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have fallen by 25,000 and 21,000 editions respectively in the year since the publisher switched from broadsheet to ‘compact’ size last March, with mixed results in digital subscriptions as growth in the take up of paywalls appeared to slow.

Melbourne title The Age showed a significant slowing in its growth of digital sales quarter on quarter, with just 139 new subscriptions added in the most recent circulation survey, while the start of the AFL season helped its News Corp city rival the Herald Sun post a 20 per cent jump in the same period.

Overall The Age weekday print circulation fell from 144,277 copies last year to 118,426 this year, down 17.9 per cent, while sister publication The Sydney Morning Herald reported its weekday circulation was 126,510, down from 148,037 or 14.5 per cent.

The SMH’s digital subscriptions fared better than its sister publication reporting a growth in its weekday of 6,457 subscribers a growth of 5.37 per cent quarter on quarter.

The Age's print and digital circulation numbers

The Age’s print and digital numbers

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The Sydney Morning Herald print and digital numbers

Year on year Fairfax reported significant increases in digital subscriptions, 185 per cent and 183 per cent however for The Age and SMH respectively, much of that growth appears to have come in the initial months after the publisher introduced its paywall in June last year, making year on year comparisons unreliable. In total The Age now has 118,031 weekday digital subscribers while the Herald has 126,500.

The Age reported year on year falls in circulations for the Saturday Age of 27,319 editions, or 12.4 per cent, while the Sunday Age was down 18,298 copies or 10.3 per cent. The Sydney Morning Herald reported falls of 28,075 and 32,544 for the Saturday Herald and Sun Herald respectively, representing 11.1 and 11.2 per cent falls respectively.

The Australian Financial Review reported the biggest percentage decline of the survey with the weekend edition of the national business newspaper reporting a 23.1 per cent decline in circulation year on year, shedding 18,889 copies from 81,606 to 62,717 edition, while the weekday edition had a 6.4 per cent decline to 60,706 editions. Fairfax does not share paywall subscriber numbers for the publication.

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Financial Review circulation numbers

Meanwhile, most News Corp Australia newspapers also posted double digits print circulation declines, with the publisher continuing to refuse to release digital subscriptions beyond The Australian and The Herald Sun. This is despite recently claiming to have passed 200,000 digital subscriber mark, on the back of the inclusion of non-news properties such as the fantasy football league Supercoach in the tally.

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The Australian print and digital numbers

National broadsheet The Weekend Australian recorded a 10 per cent decline in circulation shedding 26,409 editions, to have a circulation of 236,138. The Australian’s weekday sales slipped by 6.7 per cent with a loss of 8,053 copies.

The Australian, which has had a paywall since 2011, reports a year on year increase in its paywall subscribers of 35 per cent up from around 45,000 to more than 62,000. Quarter on quarter the increase in digital subscribers of around 8.4 per cent, or 4,824 on its weekday edition.

Australia’s largest selling daily newspaper the Herald Sun posted declines of more than 10 per cent for its weekday and weekend editions. The weekday edition was down to 382,217 copies, the Saturday Herald Sun sold 387,484 while the Sunday Herald Sun was down year on year 51,483 copies to 450,159 editions.

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Herald Sun print and digital numbers

Meanwhile the Herald Sun posted very strong growth results on its digital subscriptions of up 24.6 per cent or 48,830 users going into the AFL season. At least part of this growth would have been on the back of Supercoach, News Corp’s fantasy football league, which requires members to be news+ subscribers in order to be eligible for the full season gold pass.

News Corp Australia declined to comment on the reasons for the surge but has previously stated that its fantasy football product is not a large driver of digital subscriptions.

“We’re proud of SuperCoach but it represents a very small proportion of the 200,000 – the vast majority of which is composed of paid digital subscriptions to our journalism,”  a News Corp spokesman told Mumbrella last month. Whilst Supercoach subscribers must sign up to a basic unpaid News+ account, those taking a paid $19.99 season subscription for the game are offered a 28-day trial for $1.

The company also declined to comment on the reasons for not auditing digital subscriptions. However, it has previously said:

“We previously made the decision to audit The Australian and Herald Sun digital subs. The market was different then to now. It doesn’t give us any competitive advantage to announce the breakdown of the numbers at this time.

“Having said that, if we stopped reporting The Australian and Herald Sun through the ABC, people may wrongly assume it was not going well – when in fact digital subscriptions have shown good growth, as the ABC data shows.”

Around Australia in the other weekday print editions Northern Territory News, Canberra Times, Daily Telegraph, The Advertiser and West Australian all posted falls of nine per cent or greater. Only the Courier Mail and Hobart Mercury appeared to limit their weekday sales declines with falls of 5.6 per cent and 5.9 per cent respectively.

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Weekday print circulation declines

In the wider Saturday paper market the declines were more severe with the falls of up to 16.8 per cent for the Canberra Times, 9.1 per cent for the Saturday Daily Telegraph which is now well below 300,000 editions while West Australian shed 10.7 per cent to a circulation of 269,910.

Saturday paper print declines

Saturday paper print declines

Sunday newspapers showed smaller year on year percentage declines with the Canberra Times and Sunday Times in Western Australia recording 15 per cent and 14.1 per cent declines in circulation. Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph, whilst remaining the single biggest-selling paper in the country, is close to falling below the 500,000 print sale mark on the back of an 8.7 per cent decline over the last 12 months.

Sunday newspaper decline in circulation

Sunday newspaper decline in circulation

All major publishers issued statements noting that circulation declines did not fully reflect the readership of their publications in print and online, instead directing the market to Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (EMMA) the new readership metric which launched in August.

Allen Williams, managing director of Australian Publishing Media, which publishes Fairfax’s major mastheads, said in a statement: “Figures taken from our last market update given on May 9, 2014 show we have signed up around 130,000 paid digital subscribers for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. In addition, 100,000 existing print subscribers have activated their digital access.

“We continue to lead industry change by focusing on profitable circulation, further reducing unprofitable bulk channels and in turn, increasing both our circulation revenue and yield per copy for our metropolitan mastheads.  As a result, our print circulation is more profitable than ever, and that, combined with our fiercely independent journalism and content, ensures that the print editions of our mastheads continue to contribute to the growth and engagement of our audience.

“It’s important to note that circulation data only shows part of the picture of the reach of our print and digital mastheads. The latest results of EMMA have shown the strength of Fairfax Media publications in cross platform audience readership and reach.”

A News Corp Australia spokesman said in a statement: “Today’s ABC data shows The Australian continues to break records. It now has total sales (print and digital) Monday-Friday of 168,992 which is more than at any time in its history. This represents growth of 4 per cent over the same period last year, and with 62,106 digital subscriptions, the paper’s significant investment in digital is paying off.

“We are also encouraged that the Herald Sun now has 47,815 digital subscriptions, which represents growth of over 80 per cent compared to the same period last year. Our Sunday newspapers continue to be read by 4.7 million Australian’s each Sunday.

“Of course the circulation data alone does not tell the whole story. Last week’s EMMA data confirms News Corp Australia’s position as this country’s largest print and digital publisher, with an audience that continues to grow.”

Nic Christensen


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