ABCs: Newspaper circulations quicken nosedive, compact can’t stop to rot for Fairfax

ABCs: Newspaper circulations quicken nosedive, compact can’t stop to rot for Fairfax
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Newspaper print circulation maintained its steepening decline in the June quarter, with most mastheads either on or close to double digit declines as they continue to hemorrhage sales.

In the April to June quarter Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures released this morning there wasn’t one positive result on the print side for the major publishers, with Fairfax in particular taking another hammering, in what Fusion Media has described as “another really difficult and poor audit”.  

In the metropolitan market it’s a case of more of the same as circulations continue to fall, with Fairfax’s big two The Sydney Morning Herald (-17% M-F) and The Age (-16.2% M-F) posting weighty declines. It doesn’t get any better for Fairfax in the weekend metro division, with the Sun-Herald handed the unfortunate tag of the steepest decline (-20.4%) of the mastheads audited, while the SMH weekend edition (-20.2%) fared little better.  

This latest round of ABC figures is the first since Fairfax launched its new compact format for the SMH and The Age. After reporting an initial bump in sales following the launch it now appears that both titles have been brought plummeting back down to earth.

A comprehensive table of the audit results can be found here

In repsonse to the results, Fairfax Media's managing director of Australian Publishing Media, Allen Williams, said: “Our independent journalism and content has been a compelling point of difference. Our audiences have never been greater, coming to our mastheads through our various platforms.

“Going compact was all about providing our customers with a reader friendly format, delivering more impactful solutions for advertisers, and rescaling our printing operations for efficiency gains. The proof our strategy is working is that circulation revenues and yield per copy for our metropolitan mastheads are up on last year," he added.

Over at the News Limited stable, who said that they won’t be commenting on the ABC data, there was little to gloat about, with The Daily Telegraph (-11.2% M-F) and Herald Sun (-10.3% M-F) posting double digit declines.

Fairfax was able to at least boast a victory of sorts in the battle of the nationals, with the Australian Financial Review (-6.8 M-F) edging out The Australian’s Monday to Friday editions (-9.8%).

Last quarter, the only anomaly for Fairfax was the weekend edition of the Fin, which spiked an impressive 18.2% to 81,606, however this time around it has plunged the other way (-14.7%).

Commenting on the results, Justin Diddams, media analyst Citibank, told B&T that at the same time smart phone penetration accelerates in Australia, we’re seeing a deceleration in the sales of printed newspapers.

“The correlation is stark,” said Diddams. “This looks like one of the worst ABC numbers reported. I’m not that surprised, what we’re seeing is an acceleration in the structural decline in newspapers,” added Diddams, who after the ABC results last quarter described the decline of newspapers as being a “category four storm, extreme but not catastrophic”.

In terms of total masthead figures, which take into account readers who pay for paywall access in the case of The Australian, plus digital versions in the case of The SMH and The Age, things are not much rosier.

The Age (-6.9 M-F) with a total masthead of 168,409 scored better than the SMH (-14.8% M-F) with 164,288, while the gap was larger on weekend editions, with the SMH down 18.7% and The Age down 9.6%.   

The Australian showed 164,439 total subscribers, compared to the print-only figure of 113,226 for Monday to Friday, while total masthead for the weekend edition was 296,819. The week day figure for The Australian includes 47,784 digital only sales, and 41,928 for weekend.

With no major newspaper making gains, it was again the Saturday West Australian edition (-3.77%) that suffered the least damage on a print only figure of 290,536.

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