Australia’s most read print newspaper, News Corp’s The Sunday Telegraph has for the first time fallen below the important landmark of half a million copies, selling 488,432 editions last quarter, a decline of 9.8 per cent year-on-year.
The top selling tabloid was far from the only newspaper to post such print circulation declines, with some newspapers, such as The Age’s weekday edition declining in excess of 20 per cent, while digital subscriptions recorded steady but slowing growth, among the titles which were submitted for scrutiny to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Today’s figures reveal the Fairfax weekday edition of The Age is in percentage terms the worst affected newspaper, losing 28,761 sales, with falls of 20.20 per cent while the Saturday edition fell 8.8 per cent and the Sunday Age was down 10.40 per cent. The numbers for The Age’s and Sydney Morning Herald’s website paywalls, which were launched in Australia on July 2 last year, show continuing growth in digital with The Age up some 80,245 digital subscribers.
However, the growth appears to be levelling off across both Fairfax and News Corp titles (around four to eight per cent quarter on quarter) and is not replacing the number of print readers lost once the multiplier or “pass-on” rate suggested by the Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (EMMA) data released on Monday is applied to each print copy sold.
Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald also recorded double digit print sales declines with the weekday edition shedding 19,823 sales year on year, to record a 14.00 per cent decline. The Saturday edition recorded 5.6 per cent declines while the Sun-Herald fell past the milestone of 250,000 editions to sell an average of 246,635 editions last quarter, a decline of 10.70 per cent.
In digital the SMH appears to be seeing some growth going from 127.2 per cent in the quarter the paywall was introduced in September 2013 to 22.3 per cent in December, 5.37 per cent in March and 7.88 per cent in June.
The company’s national daily paper The Australian Financial Review also recorded declines of 7.6 per cent in its weekday circulation while the troubled weekend edition of the financial newspaper reigned in the previous quarter’s losses of 23.1 per cent to fall by a more modest 3.7 per cent. Fairfax does not release digital subscription numbers for the AFR.com.
News Corp’s national broadsheet The Australian recorded a year on year decline of 5.8 per cent in its weekday edition with sales falling to 109,902. While the Weekend Australian had 232,243 copies down 8.9 per cent.
The Australian’s website last quarter recorded 4.37 per cent quarter on quarter growth for the paywall, with the newspaper now reporting 64,821 paying digital subscribers. In the last 12 months the newspaper has posted relatively sedate digital growth of 4.8 per cent for September, 2.3 per cent for December and 8.42 per cent in March 2014, although it has doubled the price of a digital subscription from $3 to $6 per week this year.
In the News Corp tabloid stable, The Herald Sun posted near 10 per cent declines in print sales with the weekday down to 376,342, a fall of 9.5 per cent. The Saturday edition was down 9.6 per cent to 376,643 editions while the Sunday Herald Sun sold an average of 438,290 editions, which represents a decline of 9.80 per cent.
News Corp refuses to release digital subscriber numbers for any of its tabloids beyond early-adopter The Herald Sun, which has now passed 50,000 digital subscribers but last month posted 5.06 per cent quarter on quarter growth. The newspaper this quarter came off the pre AFL season growth of the last quarter which saw it surge 19.9 per cent on the back of the coverage of the code.
A spokesman for News Corp last night declined to comment on its reasons for not publishing the digital subscriber numbers for other titles such as The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail and Adelaide Advertiser.
In April the publisher claimed it had passed the 200,000 digital subscription mark and defended its decision not to audit the titles saying: “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.”
In the weekday print market editor Chris Dore’s Courier Mail was the stand-out performer last quarter with declines of only 2.4 per cent in print. The result was in stark contrast to the rest of the News Corp stable with titles like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph which lost 29,993 copies to fall 9.7 per cent and The Adelaide Advertiser which fell 9.4 per cent, shedding 14,600 copies year on year.
The West Australian lost 8 per cent of its sales posting 164,107 copies in the quarter, while the Canberra Times fell 8.1 per cent to 24,040 weekday editions. The NT News also fell 10.3 per cent to 14,803 copies while Tasmania’s Mercury is down 7.4 per cent to 34,637.
In the Saturday papers, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Saturday edition was the best performer limiting its decline to only 5.7 per cent, with 220,227 editions still being sold each week. The Canberra Times and The NT News posted the largest declines of 15.7 per cent and 13.5 per cent respectively while many of the other News Corp Saturday papers such as Telegraph, Courier Mail, Advertiser and Mercury posted sales declines between seven and nine per cent.
The West Australian shed 6.9 per cent of its Saturday print sales to record an average of 270,541 edition. Schwartz Media’s The Saturday Paper, which launched in March, did not participate in the audit and said it will not do so until the new year when its allocations have stabilised.
In the lucrative Sunday newspaper market there were again major declines in sales for both Sydney newspapers with The Sunday Telegraph passing 500,000 copies but now outselling its and its long troubled rival two to one with the Sun-Herald passing the 250,000 mark to record 246,635 editions a 9.8 per cent decline. The Sunday edition of The Canberra Times fell 13.7 per cent to 22,567 editions while over in Western Australia the Sunday Times fell from 250,290 to 218,001 editions, a decline of 12.90 per cent.
In Brisbane and Adelaide the respective Sunday Mails both fell 8.3 per cent, with the Queensland Sunday newspaper now selling 381,111 editions and its South Australian sister selling 225,513 editions.
Both News Corp and Fairfax Media were asked to comment on their respective declines in print circulations. A Fairfax spokeswoman said that publisher was focused on ensuring its print circulation was profitable.
“The decline in our print circulation is the continuation of Fairfax Media’s strategy to drive profitable circulation. As per today’s full year results announcement, the contribution of digital subscriptions together with our focus on profitable print circulation saw underlying circulation revenue increase 11.4 per cent. for the year,” she said.
“Our print circulation is more profitable than ever. Combined with our fiercely independent journalism and content, the print editions of our mastheads continue to contribute to the growth and engagement of our audience.
“It’s important to also note that circulation data only shows part of the picture of the reach of our print and digital mastheads, with readership numbers showing the true strength of Fairfax Media publications in cross platform audience readership and reach.”
In a statement, News Corp CEO Julian Clarke refused to be drawn on the across the board declines in print sales noting only the record sales for The Australian when you combined its print and digital subscribers to achieve total masthead sales.
“The ABC data shows that The Australian has recorded 169,929 total paid masthead sales (M-F) – that’s more than at any time in its 50 year history,” said Clarke.
The News Corp boss also focused on one year old readership survey EMMA, which is funded by the newspaper industry. “The recently released EMMA data shows that our total audiences are up and that we now offer advertisers bigger audiences than ever before,” he said.
“The total audience of the Daily Telegraph has increased 8.3 per cent, the Courier Mail has increased 15.6 per cent, the Herald Sun has increased 5.7 per cent while the Adelaide Advertiser has increased 23.7 per cent, year on year.
“The EMMA data clearly demonstrates that Australians now receive their news from multiple platforms and that they move between platforms throughout the week and even on the same day.
“The advantage of the EMMA data is that it captures how Australians actually receive their news across all our platforms, while the ABC data only captures a part of this story, predominately print circulation levels.”
As Mumbrella revealed on Monday, media buyers have questioned a number of “inconsistencies” in the EMMA data with a number of titles such as The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail and Canberra Times all claiming significant increases in print readership despite sometimes double digit declines in sales.
The research company behind the readership survey IPSOS claimed the increases were down to consumer sharing newspapers more, a factor often referred to as the “pass-on” rate.