The Good amongst the bad

There’s good and bad news in the latest circulation data.

It’s a popular pastime to focus on the negatives when each new circulation report comes out and, to be fair, there are a lot of declines in the numbers (ABC March 2012) but it is not all bad news.

Take Woman’s Day as an example, the magazine costs $4 a week.  In a time when retailers are talking about how tough the market is and how reluctant consumers are to spend, would you not expect them to be selling fewer copies?  The latest figures show they are down -4.97% YOY but they are still selling 365,266 copies a week.  The key part of that is selling.  These are paid circulation numbers.  Readers are choosing to pay for their favourite newspapers and magazines and that is a key indicator of engagement that is often forgotten.  In the case of Woman’s Day, that equates to annual sales of just under $76 million, so while it may be down, it’s still a great business.

Overall, circulation data should help deliver two things – accountability (we know what we are buying) and insight (how people are using the medium).  The latest report in March 2012 includes two new measures that shed light on both these areas.  The first is day of week reporting for all of the major newspapers and the second is ‘Total Masthead Sales’, which will show us paid circulation across websites and digital platforms.  The second is not yet compulsory so there are only a limited number of participants to date (Fairfax Metro and The Week) but it will become increasingly important as titles such as The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and Herald Sun continue down their paid content paths.

Importantly the newspaper publishers are more and more talking about their cross platform audience and how their actual reach is increasing.  The ‘Total Masthead Sales’ report will be one of the metrics that allows them to quantify this.

The latest print numbers do highlight why they are so keen to shift the conversation away from print circulation.  Fairfax are leading the  downward charge with the Sydney Morning Herald down -13.62% (M-F) and the Age down -13.4% (M-F).  They have been releasing non-audited monthly figures and talking about their shift away from non-profitable circulation channels so, while these decreases are no surprise, they are still significant.

This report only covers the weekly magazines but there are some (a small number) of increases (BRW +2.65%, OK! +2.67%, Who +0.48%).  They are not big growth numbers but in a market that has been  impacted by caution in discretionary spending, any growth is a good result.  The bad news is the men’s market place with the P mags (People and Picture) down -30.65% and -29.05% and Zoo magazine down -29.07%.  The only positive for Zoo is that in the period on period comparison the rate of decline is slowing but it is hard to see a bright future for this sector.

The pressure on both newspapers and magazines continues but both remain strong platforms for readers and advertisers.  Overlay this with the growth opportunities from newer distribution platforms and there may be some light on the horizon.

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