ABC: Digital growth holding ground against print losses

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 13 May 2016

The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures have shown declines in print for as long as anyone can remember, however it now appears for the major publishers that their digital numbers are staving off the losses in print.

For the latest quarterly reporting period of the ABC data, up to the end of March 2016, News Corp's titles continue to fall slower in print, showing the publisher's commitment to the medium, with its digital numbers also continuing to swell.

Fairfax, who have put a lot of emphasis on digital and less so on print, is still seeing some growth in digital, but its print numbers are continuing to drop at a faster rate than that of News. 

For News Corp, its best performer is the national broadsheet The Australian, with the Monday to Friday edition experiencing a 2.1% fall in paid print sales, from 104,165 to 101,980 year-on-year (YOY). Its paid digital numbers have experienced double-digit growth, with the daily seeing a jump of 14.5% from 67,561 to 77,371.

It's Saturday offering also had a 14.3% uplift in paid digital subscribers, but this could be partly due to how News Corp structures its subscription bundles. In print, the title fell 1.2% from 230,182 to 227,465 YOY.

News Corp's Melbourne tabloid The Herald Sun fell 3.1% in print, from 342,156 to 331,715. This drop was more than made up by a 29.6% uplift in digital subscribers from 53,112 to 68,823.

The Daily Telegraph Monday to Friday edition also took a hit in print, losing 5.3% of paid print sales to 241,372.

It's hard to get a complete digital picture of News Corp's performance, because it still doesn't reveal the digital numbers for all of its individual titles.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said: “We are encouraged to see strong growth in digital subscriptions, the ongoing growth of our multi-platform audiences and a continued slowing of the decline in print circulation.

“The value of engagement in news media continues to be very high and it remains a critical part of the media mix. Indeed, in a climate of media fragmentation and declining audiences in other media, the influence of News media brands has grown in line with their growing multi-platform audiences.”

For Fairfax, its flagship daily The Sydney Morning Herald Monday to Friday edition experienced an 8.7% dip in paid print sales from 112,229 to 102,512. Digitally, the paper held steady with a 0.9% lift in sales to 134,947.

It's a similar story for Fairfax's Melbourne title, The Age, with the Monday to Friday edition falling 7.9% in print to 96,120. Worryingly, the paper's digital numbers also fell 3.4% to 125,038.

Fairfax’s Media director of customer and subscriptions Andrew Porter tells AdNews the gloomy ABC metric figures don't measure all of the ways people are paying to consume its journalism and content.

“The audited digital circulation figures are not reflective of our digital subscriber growth as they don’t capture all the ways in which our customers pay for our digital content nor the growth of our digital subscriptions revenue,” he says.

When asked how Fairfax planned to drive digital revenue, Porter says: “We are growing paid digital subscribers with new and innovative products, which are not counted in audited circulation numbers, for example our highly successful B2B site licenses.”

The publishers all point to other metrics to show the full picture, with news media brands using the industry funded Emma metric to indicate how their audiences have never been bigger than ever.

Porter pointed to the audience Fairfax recieves based on Emma, saying: "Fairfax’s quality journalism and content drives our extensive print and digital network, which reached an audience of 12.9 million in February 2016, according to Emma metrics.” 

This latest release of the ABC figures come just after news publishers offered another solution to ensure the accurate reporting of advertising revenue. The freshly rebranded newspaper industry body NewsMediaWorks and its chairman Miller announced a deal that sees the major publishers give the Standard Media Index access to its direct sales data to provide a true picture of the revenue the industry is making.

Miller told AdNews this week: “We don't have an audience issue, we've got a revenue issue and our audience has never been bigger. How we monetise those audiences is increasingly becoming an industry issue. We've seen other industries do a better job than us, while there is a degree of catch up, there’s also a degree of differentiation.

“It's not about convincing advertisers to use our companies, it's about convincing them to use us more.”

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