While combined print-digital sales for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald remained relatively stable, Fairfax’s flagship print publications suffered some of their heaviest losses on record.
Sydney’s Sunday paper the Sun-Herald plummeted by 23% on the same time last year, down from sales of 432,617 to 335,174. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age also saw their sales decline accelerate – the Herald’s Saturday circulation fell by 17% from 332,492 to 274,682 and its Monday to Friday circulation fell by 13% from 192,102 to 166,438, while The Age’s fell 15% on Sundays, 12% on Saturdays and 13% for the weekday editions.
Performance of the mastheads’ digital properties, particularly strong uptake of mobile apps, buoyed overall circulation however, with Fairfax reporting that combined sales for the Herald and the Sun-Herald fell by only 3% on May while The Age on weekdays grew 1% and fell 1% on Saturday and Sunday.
Fairfax attributes the print decline to its strategy to drop unprofitable newspaper circulation. “We’re right on track for removing deeply discounted circulation that was of no value to our advertisers,” Fairfax Metro Media CEO, Jack Matthews says. “We make no apology for focusing on full price retail and long‐term subscriptions.”
The release of the new version of the SMH and Age for iPad caused a spike in downloads, with cumulative downloads up 19% for the SMH and up 20% for The Age on May. Altogether there were 116,560 new downloads in June, meaning 695,247 readers have downloaded an app.
“We’ve had an extraordinary number of downloads in just 16 days,” Matthews says. “It even outstrips the launch of the apps a year ago. Our aim is to get as many people as possible to sample the new version before we introduce digital subscriptions next year.”
Daily unique browsers on the SMH iPhone app also grew, up 23% in June to a new record, driven, Fairfax claims, by the first full month of its print-digital integration tool AirLink, which links video and photo galleries to articles and ads in the SMH print edition.
One in five SMH app users utilised AirLink and Fairfax claims these “more engaged” users consumed 53% more pages per visit than non‐AirLink users.
Also in bad news for the monetisation of the company’s digital operations, monthly video streams declined year on year, down 15% to 5.5 million for smh.com.au and 16% to 3.1 millionfor theage.com.au.