Odd things in latest readership figures

Newspaper circulation and readership figures are depressing for those brought up in an era when print was important. Not that it’s now  totally unimportant, just that it is neither the dominant influence nor the first port of call for PR people seeking to communicate with audiences.

But the latest Roy Morgan readership figures comparing 2013 and 2014 readership are interesting and, in some respects, surprising. The blog realises the newspaper industry publishes its own figures but the Morgan ones are still pertinent and don’t get much attention in the mainstream media. In terms of readership totals the only newspapers where Monday to Friday readership were up were the Illawarra Mercury, Townsville Bulletin and the Northern Territory News while the Daily Telegraph lost more than 100,000 readers – presumably in the last case a 100,000 people no longer felt the need to consult a tabloid version of a Liberal Party internal magazine. In the case of the Illawarra Mercury and the Terror the increases were around 3,000 and 2,000 respectively. It might not seem like much, but represented increases of 6.6% and 5.4% at a time when everybody else was going backward.

Of course, the new mantra is that it is the cross-platform reach which is significant. Here the news wasn’t that great either. Morgan defines the cross-platform audience as the number of Australians who have read or accessed individual newspaper content via print, web or app. Print is based on average issue readership while the online is a seven day average of website visitation and app usage. The big losers under this measurement were the Mercury, Herald Sun, West Australian, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Australian, Newcastle Herald, Financial Review and the West Australian.

For those in the media hoping that quality is the answer the nation’s two worst newspapers, The Adelaide Advertiser and the Courier-Mail, had increases in their cross-platform audiences. Others to do well were the Canberra Times, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. All in all probably much better news for Fairfax (perhaps Ms Rinehart got out at the wrong time) than for the Murdoch papers.

One sidelight in the figures was the readership for weekend colour inserts. Other than the AFR the figures were universally abysmal and the declining ad content in all of them demonstrates that media buyers are recognising this. It’s also bad news for PR people as there’s nothing like a couple of colour pages in a weekend magazine to bulk out the media clipping file given to clients.

Of course this is all grist to the mill for those who expect social media to kill off traditional newspapers even though no social media news site remotely approaches the traditional media outlets for total reach. Moreover, in a rapidly segmenting communication environment any outlet which achieves something resembling a mass audience – such as TV – is still invaluable. Equally the massive reach of ABC news online, regional and local radio broadcasting continues to infuriate Rupert Murdoch which is, in itself, probably a good thing. Moreover, all the research indicates that it is still the most trusted Australian media source thereby also infuriating the Abbott government. There are not many media outlets which have two such desirable attributes.

The ready availability in Australia of print and/or online versions of the Guardian, Daily Mail, Economist, Financial Times, New York Times is also having an impact on Australian media readership. The blog, for instance, finds the weekend edition of the FT more useful than the daily AFR. More importantly both the FT and the Economist are a welcome contrast in terms of quality writing and freedom from parochial Australian media attitudes. Most importantly they are free of the banal self-serving rhetoric of Australian business leaders and the grovelling acceptance of the validity of their utterances. The Australian naturally both reaches and reflects many in this latter group. Nevertheless, its Monday to Friday daily newspaper readership only reaches a bit over 2% of the total voting public –  although the cross-platform figures are better.