New figures on newspaper sales show half of Australia’s Sunday newspapers, including the Canberra Times, Sun-Herald, Sunday Territorian, Sunday Age and Sunday Times, have posted double digit declines in their print circulations.
The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) data shows a continuation of the sustained declines of print across the board for newspapers, whilst the uptake for digital subscriptions among mastheads released by News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media continues to slow, with News Corp’s Herald Sun showing quarter on quarter growth of just 0.24 per cent or 123 digital subscriptions.
An analysis of the latest figures by Fusion Strategy noted that while declines had moderated somewhat with the overall print market falling 9.12 per cent in the September quarter, digital was not making up for the decline.
“Print falls have moderated year on year,” said Steve Allen, media analyst for Fusion Strategy “but digital cannot, or rather, has not, made up all the ground.”
Fairfax’s Melbourne masthead The Age had the biggest drop with its weekday edition posting a year on year circulation fall of 19.6 per cent, shedding 26,303 print editions from 133,981 last year to 107,678 for June to September of 2014.
On the weekend the Saturday edition of The Age declined 8.2 per cent to 182,187 copies, while the Sunday Age fell 11.6 per cent. The survey also gives the first annualised numbers since Fairfax put up its paywall on its digital assets in July last year, which show growth steadying out after the initial surge for The Age rising 37 per cent on weekdays from 98,788 to 133,926 digital subscriptions. Quarter on quarter analysis of the numbers shows subscribers grew 4.47 per cent in the most recent quarter.
However, the number of new digital subscribers in the last 12 months more than offsets the decline in print sales in numbers, with The Age shedding 26,000 print editions but gaining 36,000 digital subscribers.
It was a similar picture at its sister newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald where the weekday print edition recorded a 14.5 per cent decline in sales to hit 116,838 editions, down from 136,623 last year. The Saturday edition of the Herald posted a 7.6 per cent decline in print sales, while the Sun Herald continues to struggle posting a 14.2 per cent decline to 235,045 copies shifted on average.
In digital subscriptions on a weekday the SMH now has 132,938 paying users, up 35.4 per cent on last year, but it too saw growth stall in the quarter on quarter analysis with a 4.4 per cent increase from 127,334 this quarter. The slowing in Fairfax digital subscriptions growth does come in the same week that the SMH.com.au, which allows 30 free stories before users hit a ‘porous’ paywall, retained the position of top news website in Australia with some 3.8m unique users in October.
News Corp’s national broadsheet The Australian has shed more than 10,000 copies on weekdays and close to 20,000 copies on the weekend. The weekday edition dropped 9.2 per cent to 106,053, while The Weekend Australian sold 231,349. In digital subscriptions rose 17.1 per cent year on year, but again there is a levelling out quarter on quarter with 745 new subscribers added since the last quarter when it had 64,821, a rise of 1.4 per cent.
However, The Australian has this year doubled the price of a digital subscription from $3 to $6 per week and also raised its cover price and subscription price on its print products.
Fairfax’s national masthead, the business focused Australian Financial Review, continues to stem its losses following the May release which saw its weekend edition tumble 23.1 per cent.
This quarter saw a year on year decline of 9.8 per cent on weekdays and 11.10 per cent on weekends. The AFR on a weekday now has 57,961 print sales, with 55,354 copies sold on weekends. Fairfax has never revealed the subscriber numbers for the long-standing and costly paywall on the masthead’s website.
Australia’s biggest-selling masthead the Herald Sun also saw 7-8 per cent circulation falls across all of its print editions. The weekday edition of the newspaper was down 8.6 per cent from 399,638 a year ago, to 365,133 this quarter. The Saturday edition was down 7.9 per cent while the Sunday Herald Sun lost more than 40,000 sales to reach 429,500, a decline of 8.7 per cent.
Year on year the Herald Sun’s digital subscriptions are up 34.1 per cent on weekdays as News has aggressively pushed the News+ subscription, but much of that growth came in the first quarter of 2014 when there was a 21.4 per cent spike driven by sign ups ahead of the AFL season. Quarter on quarter growth saw the masthead put on just 123 more copies, rising 0.24 per cent from 50,237 to 50,360.
The digital picture on other tabloid newspapers remains unclear as News Corp does not audit digital subscription numbers for The Daily Telegraph, Courier Mail, Adelaide Advertiser and Hobart Mercury.
While News would not comment on why it does not audit the digital products for those mastheads 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.”
The Northern Territory News shed 12.1 per cent for its weekday editions, falling to a circulation of 14,724. Fairfax’s Canberra Times shed 9.6 per cent on the weekday while West Australian Newspapers fell 8.8 per cent to 157,110.
Among the rest of News’s tabloid stable the Courier Mail remains the best performer with a decline this quarter of 5.5 per cent, with sales falling to 157,110 editions, while the Daily Telegraph posted a 6.4 per cent fall, the Mercury had a 6.9 per cent decline and The Adelaide Advertiser lost 8.8 per cent.
Among Saturday newspapers The NT News and Canberra Times were the worst performers, with declines of 16.3 per cent and 12.7 per cent respectively. The Daily Telegraph performed best with a decline of only 4.1 per cent while most other Saturday newspapers recorded falls of 6-9 per cent.
Schwartz Media’s The Saturday Paper, which launched in March, is still not participating in the audit and has said it will not do so until some time into the new year when its allocations have stabilised.
Among the ten Sunday newspapers, five posted double digit declines with the Sunday Territorian and Canberra Times again the worst performers, with declines of 14.9 and 14.8 per cent respectively. They were closely followed by News Corp’s Sunday Times which lost 32,360 sales in the last year to post sales of 208,126 last quarter.
In a tough Sunday newspaper market The Sunday Tasmanian was the best performer with a 7.10 per cent decline, while Australia’s highest-circulating newspaper The Sunday Telegraph dropped to 475,959, a decline of 7.9 per cent.
When invited to comment on the declines in circulation and slow growth in digital Fairfax and News Corp issued the following statements.
A spokesman for Fairfax noted: “Our print circulation is more profitable than ever. Profitable circulation and Fairfax’s fiercely independent journalism and content, ensures that the print editions of the mastheads continue to contribute to the growth and engagement of Fairfax’s audience.
“Across Fairfax Media’s mastheads, digital subscriptions have seen YOY increases. For The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the large percentage increases year on year of previous quarters are due to the comparison to the launch phase of digital subscriptions in quarter one of financial year2014
“It’s important to note that circulation data only shows part of the picture of the reach of our print and digital mastheads. The September 2014 EMMA results show the strength of Fairfax Media publications in cross platform audience readership and reach.”
News Corp also sought to highlight EMMA readership data, which has in recent months faced questions from media buyers over data showing print readership increases in the face of circulation declines, but argued it was “outperforming” its competitors in the declining print market.
“The EMMA data reaffirms News’ position as the country’s number one publisher, and a leader in the key categories that Australians are most interested in,” said a News Corp spokesman.
“While the best measure of Australia’s media consumption is readership, circulation data is still one area of focus for the company. The recently released ABC data shows we are outperforming our competitors in print and at the same time sales of key digital products continue to grow strongly.
“For instance, digital sales of The Australian Monday to Friday grew 17 per cent on a year on year basis, while digital sales of the Herald Sun are up 34 per cent year on year.”