Digital sales growth slowing for Australian newspapers

Growth of paying digital subscribers for Australia’s major newspapers may be losing steam, new audit numbers published today suggest.

The newspaper which has seen the most consistent reduction in growth of digital sales is The Australian, published by News Corp. Its overall digital sales grew by just 2.3 per cent compared to the prior quarter.

The newspaper industry is likely to point towards seasonal variations as a factor, with the three months to December usually a slower sales time for newspapers.

However, The Australian’s digital growth also slowed in previous quarters – from an uplift of 16% in the first quarter of last year, to +5.3% in the second quarter and +4.8% in the third.

The performance of print circulations are usually best compared year-on-year to cut seasonal variations out of wider trends. But in this case Mumbrella has chosen to make quarter-by-quarter comparisons because the relatively recent arrivals of paywalls means there are not yet long term trends.

The Australian – which was the first major Aussie masthead to launch a paywall in October 2011 – now has 57,282 digital subscribers.

The Australian M-F digital sales

  • December 2012 – 39,539
  • March 2013 – 45,869 (+16%)
  • June 2013 – 51,213 (+5.3%)
  • September 2013 – 55,991 (+4.8%)
  • December 2013 – 57,282 (+2.3%)

australian subscribeThe Audited Media Association of Australia rules allow publishers to include in their digital figures digital subscriptions and packages that include both print and digital.

A full digital-only subscription to The Australian costs $4 per week, suggesting the newspaper’s digital-only sales are at best bringing in $230,000 per week and probably much less. If replicated across other newspapers, this figure suggests that digital sales are a long way from making up for the shortfall in print revenues.

Members of the AMAA are not yet obliged to share their digital data, although once they start they must continue to do so.

News Corp publishes digital numbers for its Melbourne tabloid the Herald Sun which also has a pay wall. But it does not share digital numbers for Sydney title The Daily Telegraph or The Courier Mail in Brisbane.

The Herald Sun has also seen a slowing of its digital sales growth since its paywall launched last March. Its first three months with a paywall saw a 27.5% growth in digital sales, albeit off the relatively low base of 33,714. In the latest quarter, it saw sales grow by just 4.8 per cent.

Herald Sun M-F digital sales

  • March 2013 – 26,436 (First publication of data)
  • June 2013 – 33,714 (+27.5%; after paywall launch)
  • September 2013 – 37,564 (+11.4%)
  • December 2013 – 39,380 (+4.8%)

Digital-only subscriptions to The Herald Sun are priced at $4 per week, suggesting digital-only weekly revenues of about $150,000 at best, and probably much less.

Fairfax Media’s major two metro titles – The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – also saw a slowdown in their digital sales growth in the last quarter.

This came after both saw initial jumps in digital sales following the launch of metered paywalls in July. Both titles overtook The Australian in the quarter up to September 2013.

The Age M-F digital sales

  • Dec 2012 – 37,162
  • March 2013 – 41,381 (+11.4%)
  • June 2013 – 47,951 (+13.7%)
  • September 2013 – 97,788 (+51%; after paywall launch)
  • December 2013 – 117,892  (+20.6%)

Sydney Morning Herald M-F digital sales

  • December 2012 – 37,162
  • March 2013 – 44,697 (+20.3%)
  • June 2013 – 43,191 (-3.5%)
  • September 2013 – 98,177 (+127.3%; after paywall launch)
  • December 2013 – 120,043 (+22.3%)

The Age and The SMH’s most expensive digital subscriptions are around $6 per week, suggesting they could together be bringing in Fairfax Media about $1.4m per week at best. However, the actual total is likely to be much lower as website access is priced lower, and The Age’s and SMH’s digital subscriptions have been boosted by school and tertiary education sales which are at a lower price.

Digital sales december 2013

Metro and national titles’ digital sales (in most cases Sunday subscribers are also weekday susbcribers as part of the same package)

Meanwhile, the magazine recording the highest digital figure was News Corp’s Donna Hay, with sales of 13,631. This was followed by Bauer Media’s Australian Women’s Weekly on 9,600.

Tim Burrowes


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