Newspaper readership and circ results: Otago Daily Times, Nelson Mail and Wairarapa Times-Age buck the downward trend

For some time now, reporting on the newspaper results has been a repetitive exercise of commenting on the downward trends in the print industry. Each time the results come out, it again confirms that the print is in decline. And rather predictably, the latest slew of results again told a similar story.

However, despite all the doomsday prophesying in the industry, there were a handful of standout papers that bucked the overall trend and successfully managed to lift their readership results. 

Of all the papers surveyed by Nielsen in the latest rundown, the Otago Daily Times was by far the standout performer, lifting its readership year on year by 9,000 readers. This was followed by the Nelson Mail and the Wairarapa Times-Age, each with year-on-year lifts of 7,000 readers, and then by the Bay of Plenty Times, which moved from 37,000 to 40,000.

In addition to these papers, the Northern Advocate, Oamaru Mail, Taranaki Daily News and Rotorua Daily Post also enjoyed lifts in readership. 

As far as the ABC’s circulation figures go, the Wairarapa Times-Age, Bay of Plenty Times and Northern Advocate enjoyed lifts in annual net circulation (ANC).

A Wairarapa Times-Age report celebrated the paper’s strong performances in recent surveys. 

“For the sixth consecutive period, the Times-Age has shown a positive circulation increase, an achievement not matched by any other newspaper in the country,” said the report. 

“During the past three months, the Times-Age’s circulation increased 1.1 percent, with the paper sitting 6.9 percent higher than a year before – the highest circulation increase for newspapers in New Zealand.”

The newspaper’s general manager Andrew Denholm also weighed in, saying: “It’s incredibly hard to achieve compound growth so I’m really proud of the team.”

While an increase in annual net circulation is certainly good news for the papers, it’s worth noting this doesn’t necessarily imply the papers have been paid for. The paid circulation figures (indicated in the far-right column of the above table) provide an indication of the number of papers that customers have paid for. But even this figure is subject to a pretty relaxed definition.  

A paid copy as defined by the ABC standard implies that a consumer paid 33 percent of the value of the cover price for the paper. This requirement was previously set at 50 percent, but it was subsequently lowered (the magazine industry has retained it at 50 percent).

Furthermore, because the ABC website only lists the most current paid circulation figures, this makes historical comparison of paid circulation difficult.


On the other side of the spectrum, the New Zealand Herald (down 59,000 readers year on year), Herald on Sunday (down 38,000 readers), Sunday News (down 30,000) and the Dominion Post (down 22,000) suffered the biggest losses in terms of readership.

The Herald, the Sunday Star Times, Sunday News and the Dominion Post each also suffered dips in circulation.  

Despite its drop in readership, the Herald on Sunday lifted its circulation from 98,709 to 99,748. However, it’s again worth noting that the publication only has a paid circulation of 90,723 (meaning that roughly 8,000 papers are distributed for less than 33 percent of the cover price).

Comparatively, the Herald on Sunday’s main competitor the Sunday Star Times has an annual net circulation 109,803 against its paid circulation of 106,005.

Arguably the most significant year-on-year readership drop suffered by any of the papers was found in the Ashburton Guardian, which lost around 47 percent of its readers as it slipped from 19,000 to 10,000 readers. 

While the Wanganui Chronicle shed 5,000 readers, the paper did lift its circulation from 9,776  to 9,927, leading the paper to release a report saying:

“The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation show we increased our circulation by 1.5 percent in the 12 months to June 30. That follows the 1.5 percent increase we enjoyed in the first quarter of the year, to March 31. The new figures compare circulation with the June 2014 figure and show the Chronicle has had the fourth-highest rise in circulation of all paid-for newspapers in New Zealand.”

Overall, it’s been another difficult period for the nation’s newspapers, but the strength of papers like the Otago Daily Times again reiterate that there is still demand for print publications. Also, with a daily reach of around 417,000 readers, the New Zealand Herald’s print edition continues to reach an audience that most television shows and websites would be more than satisfied with. And while this is declining, the growth in online news readership suggests Kiwis aren’t losing an interest in news but are rather just consuming it through different channels. 

  • See the results from ABC here.
  • See the results from Nielsen here.

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