19 November 2012

Newspapers: Circulation is down, spin is up and profit....?

How quick is the end coming for the traditional print media?

Pretty quickly if the latest circulation figures are to be taken as an accurate guide.

Australian Bureau of Circulation figures for the September 2012 quarter revealed the following:

  • The 27th consecutive quarterly decline in print newspaper circulation (metro dailies fell 6.5%, average national down 5.5%)
  • The Herald Sun weekday decline was 21.3%, The Age weekday drop (from a lower base) was 16.91%, The Saturday Age fell 15.1%, The Sydney Morning Herald weekday average was down 15.1% and the Saturday edition fell 15.9%. The Weekend Australian held up comparably well with only a 5.6% decline as did the weekday AFR (down 6.5%)
  • The only newspaper to improve its circulation was the weekday The West Australian which added 0.7% to its readership although its Saturday edition dropped 5.3%
The big players were, of course, putting their best happy face on the results with Fairfax Metro Media chief spin doctor, Robert Whitehead saying ‘Sometime very soon you'll see the quarter-on-quarter decline slowing down. Digital sales would improve once the metros introduced subscriptions for the web and tablet and smartphone apps next year'.

Digital sales are still tiny (14,920 for The Age, 26,091 for the SMH and 27,796 for the weekday edition of The Australian) but the industry is doing its best to put a glossy shine on everything. The CEO of the industry body, The Newspaper Works, Tony Hale, enthused; ‘The multi-platform publishing strategies being pursued by the major newspaper publishers have produced a very promising picture of newspaper circulations'.

In all this feel-good spin, nobody mentioned the awkward six letter word ... profit.

Meanwhile former print media journalists and editors such as Eric Beecher (Crikey), Amanda Gome (Smart Company), Mia Freedman (Mama Mia) and Alan Kohler (Business Spectator) have stolen the march on their former employers with online publishing business models that actually make money.

I wonder if Tom Waterhouse would frame a market on which major daily newspaper will be the first one to stop printing a Monday-to-Friday edition?

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