The newsroom adage of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ no longer has any cut-through when reporting on newspaper sales, as losses have been remarkable not only for their severity but also their ubiquity.
Leading the pack the wrong way was Fairfax, which can no longer boast a single print title by sales volume in the top 10 in Australia.
The best it could manage was 11th with the Sun-Herald, which itself dropped 24.4% or 93,433 copies compared to where it was this time last year. It’s average number of copies sold for the audit period was 290,174. This was the single biggest drop of the entire audit in terms of sheer numbers and was only beaten to the wooden spoon in percentage terms by Western Australian classifieds paper Quokka.
Fairfax’s woes failed to stop there, with the Sydney Morning Herald Monday two Friday editions suffering an 18.2% drop seeing those average sales slump to 148,037. The Saturday edition fared relatively better, but still came in for some tap with a 13.6% drop in sales to 253,240.
The weekday Age only mustered sales of 144,277 weekday copies, a drop of 12.6%, while the Saturday edition dropped 8.9% for the year to average sales of 219,696. The Sunday Age dropped 13.6% to 178,141.
The Australian Financial Review Monday to Friday dropped 8.0% to be 64,861. The only anomaly for Fairfax was the weekend edition of the Fin, which spiked an impressive 18.2% to 81,606.
A spokesman for Fairfax however said that the company could probably not take too much solace from this figure as the weekend edition of the AFR had two bonus bumper issues. The publication has incredibly strong sales over the Easter Weekend and owing to a quirk of the year, there were two Easters in this reporting year. Secondly, Australia Day fell on a Saturday this year, which led to another spike in sales.
Even though digital sales are no doubt a bright point for Fairfax, they still do not compensate for the loss in print. For example, even though the Sun Herald’s average net digital sales climbed by 8%, the total decline in sales including digital subscriptions was still 23%.
Similarly, the other Fairfax titles’ combined sales largely shadowed their print results despite steady, in the case of the Sydney Morning Herald, and stellar, in, the case of the Age titles, growth in digital. The Age’s growth has come off a low base, but no doubt fingers will be crossed that the Saturday version of the Age will continue to hold something like its current 395% growth rate.
Australian Financial Review online subscriptions are still not part of the ABC audit. Fairfax has been involved in a long and thorough process of clearing out unprofitable copies, but the losses are clearly well beyond that.
Fairfax can take some comfort in the fact that they're not alone with the heavy falls.
News Limited’s losses were most keenly felt in the shape of The Advertiser Monday to Saturday dropping 9.8%, the Herald Sun dropping 9.4% and the Daily Telegraph Monday to Friday dropping 9.0% year on year.
The Sunday Telegraph at 559,026 remains Australia’s most widely bought print publication although it too dropped 8.2%. Along with its Melbourne stable-mate, the Sunday Herald Sun (down 7.7% to 501,642) are now Australia’s only two print publications selling more than half a million copies and that figure could soon be down to one, or even none, by the time the next quarterly audit rolls around.
While still not able to be compared to last year, News’ digital sales remain on the up. In last quarter’s audit, the weekday Australian digital only subscriptions were 35,897. This audit they stand at 42,719 or 19% more.
Up north, the Courier Mail lost 8.0% on its Monday to Friday editions, while its Saturday edition lost 10.5% (don’t worry Kim, we won’t tell Rupert). The Sunday Mail lost 8.3% to be averaging 423,488 copies sold.