The ink’s red, there’s less of it, and no-one’s reading it

Written By: - Date published: 7:55 pm, February 23rd, 2009 - 17 comments
Categories: Media - Tags:

New circulation figures show that the number of papers sold by the major dailies continues to slide. In 2007, the big three (Herald, Dom, Press) published 384,037 papers a day on average each. Now, that’s down to 358,047. Last year alone, circulation fell nearly 24,000 or 6%.

Of more importance for papers’ revenue than circulation is their readership, which they use to set ad rates. This is determined by a large survey but something seems to be very wrong with it. Last year, the readership apparently decreased just 1%. Not only are we supposedly sharing one paper between 2.93 of us but that is up (for no reason) from 2.78 last year. Hilariously, we’re meant to believe that 3,000 more people are reading the Dom even though they’re printing 6,000 fewer papers.

If these trends circulation and readership trends continue, by 2208 the 152,747 of us still reading the newspaper will be crowded round a single copy of the Herald. What are the odds you’ll get to do the sudoko amongst all that lot? A vision of a dark future, that’s for sure.

In all seriousness, things are looking rough and they just got rougher with Fairfax announcing a loss of nearly half a billion in the last half year, down from a profit of $200 mil in the first half of last year. Expect APN and Fairfax to cut more journo jobs. It’s the equivalent of asset-stripping for the print media, but that’s what you do when your industry’s dying.

17 comments on “The ink’s red, there’s less of it, and no-one’s reading it”

  1. Well there is a recession going on.

    Internet bloggers arent going to kill off the print media, so I guess we are still stuck with the extreme liberal Christchurch Press and TVNZ.


  2. Rex Widerstrom 2

    Blogs might not be about to kill off the MSM for news, but already they are challenging it for current affairs (or analysis, or background… call it what you will).

    However I’d venture to suggest that the biggest weakness in the MSM at present is commentary and opinion. The MSM tends to look for columnists and talkback hosts amongst those considered “controversial” (indeed that’s sometimes description used in their promotions) which all too often equates to “having frequently made an utter wally of oneself”.

    It’s not so much what gets said as the way it’s written or expressed that means I come to the blosophere to sample opinion. I don’t care if it’s Russell Brown or the late lamented Frank Haden writing so long as I can admire the style, the intellect behind it, and the argument that’s presented as a result.

    It’s no coincidence that both these writers – and others whom I admire just as much – started out as working journalists (though Russell might argue against that description). They’re not failed MPs or professional bimbos or reality TV contestants or whatever the current “qualifications” are for a place in the MSM. They’re professionals and it shows.

    It wouldn’t solely stem the MSM’s decline if they cleaned house of their stable of tired hacks, but it’d help. And if they’re short of column centimetres after promoting a few journos then a quick scan of the blogosphere will reveal many – commenters and posters alike – with more interesting things to say and better ways of saying it.

  3. Pascal's bookie 3

    Rex, {cynicism}you’re assuming that editors want readers that like to think. I’m sure they do, but not at the expense of readers that like to feel. The content can’t distract from the ads, which is what the eyeballs are wanted on the page for. The ideal opinion piece produces an emotional reaction, that doesn’t last long, about something that can be forgotten as soon as it’s read. If the piece requires too much thought then readers will still be thinking about it as they turn the page, or worse, put down the paper to think some more, or even worse yet, figure that this newspaper is boring pointy headed stuff that makes my brain hurt.

    Which makes it easy for the writer too, as they can recycle the column in a months time and no one will know/care.{/cynicism}

  4. Herbert. 4

    Pb – you have a brain that hurts. Oh my, go see a doctor quickly old chap.

  5. Brett, I made no comment on causes. But it’s clear that the print media is losing the political class and what in a more confident country would be called the intelligentsia to the internet media because the print media is too dumb, too boring, too personality obsessed, and too shallow.

  6. To be fair, there’s quite a logical reason why the ratio of readers to papers would climb as circulation and readership falls. The decrease in papers printed could be caused by fewer people having them delivered to their homes or buying them for reading at home – workplaces and cafes, however, might not be reducing their purchases. More people are going to read each paper at a workplace and cafe than they do a paper ina house.. thus, the overall average of readers per paper would increase, even as readership and circulation falls.

  7. Yes, I believe the print media is losing out to the Internet media in some way, but in the long run the print media wont be beaten, nothing like a physical copy to hold in your hand.

    What are the internet stats of sites such as the Huffington Post/Raw Story/drudge and Slate compared to the Washington Post and the New York Times?

    Also Im guessing, (which is basically just Fairfax papers) are putting up big numbers.

    Would it be fair to say that only a small percentage of people get their news from independent news websites??

  8. Bill 8

    Read the post. Not the comments. Was told by employee of ODT…(so it’s all subjective and hearsay) that through the week = loss and its only the advertising on the weekend edition that pulls it through.

    True? Dunno.

    Believable? Yes.

    Same for others? ……………….

  9. Con 9

    Brett: the shift of readers from newspapers to the web is not by any means a local NZ phenomenon. Newspapers around the world are either shifting to the web or going bust.

    You may well think there’s nothing like a physical copy to hold in your hand, but that won’t stop the print media being beaten by the web. People have to be prepared to PAY for that physical copy, and the evidence is that increasinly they prefer not to. And of course, once a large number of readers spurn the papers, they become uneconomic to run.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    Brett, that would be very fair. Blogs can’t compete much on the hard news front, except in some very rare instances. Bloggers can, and do, break stories but they can’t do so with the day in day out coverage that a newspaper can. Where they are competing is in the opinion and analysis fields.

    Bloggers can specialise in a way that newspapers don’t. For US examples think Glen Greenwald on surveillance and torture legal issues, or any number of bloggers on political analysis, science, religion and any other field that usually gets covered in the newspaper ‘magazine sections’.

    Bloggers can afford to assume that their readership has a higher knowledge about the issues involved (because that’s why they are reading a specialised blog) and so don’t have to include the basics in every damn article. they don’t have to assume zero knowledge from their audience which allows them to actually explain things, or talk about them properly.

    The fact that bloggers don’t have to do the full spectrum of news to be successful, allows them to focus on the developments within the field they choose to write about, drawing on and analysing the MSM legwork, and thus providing a far more tailored product for their narrower audience.

    I don’t think that anyone seriously expects the MSM to go away, or even desires that. ( I’m excluding the various pajama news type right wing nutjubs, because they are nutjobs who aren’t worth thinking about).

    What is stupid IMV is that the MSM should be focussing on their strongpoint. Hard news, (current events newswire style reporting) and investigative journalism, but that’s the stuff they seem to be cutting in favour of lifestyle effluvia and celebrity PR work.

  11. Rex Widerstrom 11

    Pascal’s bookie:

    I’ll see your cynicism and raise you The Australian, which aims at a generalist market (unlike, say, the daily business paper) and, most days, produces a reasonable amount of hard news and a smattering of intelligent analysis. Then on the weekends it becomes a must-read not only for the continuation of those things but also an excellent Magazine (leads this week: an unorthodix Catholic priest who can draw followers while other parish numbers are falling, so is he “right” or not?; and what a new book can tell us about an iconic Australian painter. Plus food, wine and, sadly, a couple of lightweight predictable columnists) plus the mouth-wateringly good Review.

    It’s circulation is “booming” if you believe their marketing hype, or growing by a healthy 1.5% a year if you’d rather actual facts 😉 The weekend edition rose by 3%.

    Of course Australia has its share of tabloid tat as well (and in the west we’re stuck with only The West, which isn’t known as “The Worst” for nothing). And yes, Australia has a much larger population.

    But still, even with economies of scale I think intelligent print is feasible in NZ, so I wonder which it is… is it that New Zealand editors don’t want thinking readers, or New Zealand readers don’t want to think? There can be no other explanation for Michael Laws and Deborah Coddington.

  12. Chris 13

    The quicker dear Granny dies the better. It deserves to die a horrible nasty death, but then again, where would all those twits like Tim Murphy go? That’s a depressing thought in itself. However, of far greater benefit would be liberation of excellent people like Rudman, Gaynor, Oram into the blogsphere (I am very sure that there are excellent female commentators/investigative journalists, but Granny/Fairfax is nothing if sexist, racist, homophobic and moronic to boot).

    The quicker someone comes up with an aggregate blog ‘reader’ the pulls blogs into one window for viewing the better. I don’t think existing blog ‘readers’ get it. Or if they do I haven’t found it.

    What I want is to select blogs and have them pull down automatically daily (the wide choice would mean that it would be only rarely that all bloggers would fall silent on the same day) and present them in a window. Not a friggin side bar. Or some fancy pants schmazzy whizz bang display. Here I’m trying to transfer the *way* I read the newspaper to the digital platform – and it doesn’t compute, annoyingly.

    Economically, if there was such a blog ‘reader’ that mimicked the way we *read* newspapers then I’d be happy to subscribe. Say a buck a day. Times that by the large pool of intelligent readers and there’s an income stream to distrubute amongst contributors.

  13. Ianmac 14

    Chris: The idea that readers of blogs contribute a sum to the blogsite instead of buying a newpaper, was floated on Public Address a few weeks ago. The plan would be for the income to pay for a serious investigative journalist. I guess it would depend on what “truth” you wanted to hear which would depend on the sort of blogsite that you would subscribe to, especially on political topics.

  14. BLiP 15

    Pascals Bookie

    ” . . .you’re assuming that editors want readers that like to think. I’m sure they do, but not at the expense of readers that like to feel. The content can’t distract from the ads . . . ”

    Spot on! Hadn’t quite got that so, thanks. Its like the new sales techniques these days, “building relationships” which, really, is just a variation on “bunko” – but, yes, of course, style has replaced content in an effort to facilitate a more receptive mood for the advertising. Brilliant.

  15. Chris 16


    The ‘truth’ I’m looking for is refreshingly free of wingnut viewpoints supporting the likes of Roughan, George, Laws and other ‘columnists’.

  16. randal 17

    and hooton is still filling the letters columns with spurious and nasty pieces on members of the labour party and nzlp policy.
    when are you policy wonks and superiour beings going to catch on to the nastiness that goes down 24/7 and organised by the creeps and do something about it?

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