THE decline in newspaper circulation appears to have slowed. Latest figures show the Australian industry is weathering the downturn in consumer spending better than US and British papers.
Overall, the circulations of metropolitan, national and regional papers fell just 0.9 per cent in the three months to March 31 compared with the corresponding period last year, according to the figures, by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Weekday sales of The Sydney Morning Herald rose a fraction, to 212,700 copies, in a NSW newspaper market in which the circulations of most mastheads fell. The weekend issue held steady at 359,000 copies.
The Herald's nearest competitor, News Limited's The Daily Telegraph, lost nearly 6000 sales during the week, a fall of 1.5 per cent, to settle at 360,563.
Sales of its Saturday issue fell by a half a per cent, to 331,272.
Both NSW Sunday papers suffered significant declines. Sales of Fairfax's The Sun-Herald fell 4 per cent, to 480,000 - after the decision to drop two editions from its printing cycle because they were uneconomic. The Sunday Telegraph fell 2.7 per cent, to 651,872.
Fairfax's The Australian Financial Review posted a large drop. It sold 5700 fewer copies during the week, 82,764 - a fall of 6.5 per cent. At weekends sales fell 3946 copies, to 98,168 - down 3.9 per cent.
The chief executive of Fairfax Business Media, Michael Gill, said: "Corporate cost-cutting, reduced investor activity and redundancies in key sectors have reduced our circulations. The trend is broadly in line with previous periods of weak … activity."
Sales of News Limited's The Australian rose more than 3.6 per cent on weekdays, to 138,765, and 3.7 per cent at the weekend, to 316,174.
The figures gave the industry marketing body cause for optimism. The Newspaper Works, which comprises the three main newspaper publishers, Fairfax, News and APN, said the figures proved newspapers were bucking the trend of steep declines in circulation globally. Sales of US and British newspapers fell 7 per cent and 4 per cent respectively over the same period. The top three Australian broadsheets - The Australian, the Herald and The Age - rose by 0.2 per cent on weekdays and by half a per cent at the weekend during the audited period.
The chief executive ot the Newspaper Works, Tony Hale, said: "This proves once again that newspapers play a vital role … and are not considered a discretionary purchase that can be given up in tough economic times."