Print media laughs in face of death as latest readership figures warm cockles

If you were reading the papers over the weekend, you may have noticed a few column inches were devoted to illustrating how well the publication in front of you had done in the latest Nielsen Readership Survey. Whether the readership changes were statistically significant or not doesn’t seem to matter, because every quarter you can guarantee the big players will be focusing on the silver linings in the print media cloud.

If you believe APN’s release, it’s all good news, with The New Zealand Herald going for the visual approach to put its performance into context and claiming “the added daily readership [in the past year]would virtually fill the new South and East stands of the rebuilt Eden Park”. At a time when print is competing with an ever-increasing range of news channels and supposed to be dying a horrible death, the fact that APN says The New Zealand Herald achieved its best readership result in seven years, recording an increase of 29,000 or 5.1 percent over the last 12 months, is impressive. It is now read each day by 602,000 people aged over 15, which APN claims is more readers than all the other metropolitan newspapers combined. The Herald on Sunday also achieved its highest ever readership of 396,000 New Zealanders aged over 15 years.

Martin Simons, chief executive of APN’s New Zealand media business, says the readership result was outstanding and he thanked readers and advertisers for their great loyalty to the title. Prior to the previous high seven years ago, Herald readership had only reached above 600,000 in the early 1990s.

“This is a remarkable result given the range of news channels consumers have today and recognises the great job the paper is doing as a news and entertainment provider,” he says.

On the weekend, The Herald sells almost twice as many newspapers as any other daily paper in New Zealand, with the Weekend Herald recording a readership of 650,000, up 37,000 or six percent on the same period last year.

The Herald’s inserted magazines have also achieved solid gains, with Canvas adding 36,000 readers (+9 percent) to reach 453,000; Time Out adding 73,000 (21 percent) to 420,000 and Viva (Wednesday) now with 330,000 readers, an increase of 44,000 or 15 percent.

And the good news keeps coming: there doesn’t seem to be too much online cannibalisation, as the growth in print readership has occurred at a time when the Herald’s online audience has also been expanding rapidly, with weekly domestic traffic for the site up to 674,000 for the first six months of 2010, an increase of 27 percent on the same time last year.

Roy Morgan’s annual NZ Media Trends data compared readership of the nzherald.co.nz (those that have visited the site in the last four weeks) against average daily readership (Mon-Sat) of The New Zealand Herald, for the target of Aucklanders with a home internet connection.

The comparisons were taken over a five year period and show the growth of online readership against a decline in print readership. For Aucklanders 14+ with a home internet connection monthly online readership of nzherald.co.nz has risen to 40 percent, equal to that of daily readership of the printed version. For the same group of Aucklanders aged 25-54 (with home internet) the daily printed version figure was 39 percent and the monthly online version was 46 percent.

Overall, The Herald’s daily brand audience (those reading across the print and website edition of www.nzherald.co.nz) has increased by 81,000 (12 percent) year on year, and now reaches 753,000 on a typical day. And over a week it now connects with 1.2 million New Zealanders, which is an annual jump of 105,000.

“The first six months of 2010 have proven to be very positive for APN. With the launch of a re-designed Weekend Herald with the addition of a new Weekend Magazine this will underpin even more positive results to come,” Simons says.

APN’s arch nemesis Fairfax Media doesn’t have quite as much to crow about in terms of its flagship titles, but it’s good news on the targeted, local front.

Over the last year, the Waikato Times has increased by 6.1 percent to reach 122,000 New Zealanders aged 10+, The Press is up 2.7 percent to reach 266,000, and The Dominion Post is up 1.7 percent to reach 305,000. The best performer for Fairfax’s metropolitan dailies in print is The Press, which has grown its reach by 7.3 percent or 11,000 readers in the last quarter in its core Christchurch market, the biggest growth since 2006. Even so, there’s certainly no mention of filling new stadiums with extra readers. Merely “holding their own among consumers”.

Fairfax has performed well in the Auckland market, with the Sunday Star-Times and Sunday News experiencing a combined increase of 7.2 percent in the last quarter to reach 254,000 Aucklanders aged 10+. But the big growth in the Auckland region was also seen across Fairfax’s Suburban Newspapers, which reach 776,000 or 73.8 percent of Aucklanders aged 15+ across the week, up 10,000 readers in the last year, with the Rodney Times, which has grown by 5,000 readers, North Shore Times, up 15,000 readers, and the Western Leader, up 17,000 readers, the star performers.

Following international trends favouring hyper-local, relevant content, other success stories for Fairfax community titles include the Christchurch Mail, which has grown 10,000 readers across the year to reach 138,000 Cantabrians, and Dunedin’s D-Scene.

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