Ragtimes: APN smirks while Fairfax finds silver linings

The Nielsen newspaper readership survey year on year comparative results are black and white and read all over: APN’s NZ Herald and the Herald on Sunday are the only newspapers that have improved their readerships nationally, and Sunday News, Dominion Post and Sunday Star-Times, all published by Fairfax, have each lost readership of 10 percent or more throughout the country.

For the year-end September 2010, the Herald has increased its 15+ daily national readership from 598,000 to 607,000. This result is also reflected in significant readership rises for its lift-out magazines – TimeOut, Travel, Business Herald, Viva and Canvas (here’s what APN had to say about the results and here’s what happened last quarter).

The Herald on Sunday may have only 3,000 more readers than last year, taking its total to 383,000, but rival weeklies Sunday News and Sunday Star-Times have lost 34,000 (total 276,000) and 42,000 (total 528,000) readers respectively. Likewise, Sunday magazine has 43,000 readers fewer than last year. Wellington’s only metropolitan, the Dominion Post, has suffered a steady readership decline from 247,000 nationally in 2009 to 225,000 this year.

Weekend Herald data doesn’t seem to feature in the Nielsen release, but APN claims that, like its daily associate, it rose by 39,00 to 657,000 readers, making it “clearly the best read edition of any newspaper in the country, and double the readership of any other daily paper”.

Most community newspapers around the country have seen only slight drops in readership, with the exception of North Shore Times and Western Leader (Fairfax) and Citylife Wainuiomata News (APN), which have enjoyed notable increases.

Fairfax can also find some solace in the Auckland region, where Sunday Star-Times has gained the most readers year on year to reach 195,000 (up 19,000). However, it retains its place behind Herald on Sunday with 236,000 readers in Auckland (up 16,000) and above Sunday News with 100,000 (down 8,000).

Despite the mixed results on paper, Sandra King, group sales and marketing manager for Fairfax, says there were “no surprises” with what the year on year figures show. “We’re pleased with the results, considering the recession and the changes in people’s disposable incomes.”

It’s understandable some premium-priced publications have not performed so well in retail, but she is quick to confirm subscribers of Fairfax newspaper and magazine titles have remained faithful. Furthermore, she says the Fairfax brands continue to grow their online presence: www.stuff.co.nz has had a 64 percent increase in domestic unique browsers in the last year and it has recently launched the Stuff iPad and iPhone applications.

nzherald.co.nz has increased its online domestic audience by 31 percent over the last 12 months and the Herald iPad app has had 24,000 downloads to date.  The site’s domestic weekly audience averaged 798,000 over the most recent quarter, with a record domestic audience of 941,000 during the week of the Canterbury earthquake.

The Sunday Star-Times’ “content first” policy, implemented over the last 12 months to provide “relevancy for readers”, has worked to Auckland’s favour but seems to have alienated everyone else south of the Bombay Hills. Even in Hamilton, the Waikato Times, the Sunday papers and community newspapers have taken a hit, except for ‘granny’ Herald, which has gained 2,000 readers to reach 22,000 (grannies et al).

King has no qualms about the considerable drop in Sunday News readership: Fairfax made a business decision to reduce its distribution in the South Island, but the result is mirrored in the North Island as well.

We want to know why fewer people are reading the Post. Is Citylife Wainuiomata News that good? Wellington literates—are you out there?

You can check out the comparative magazine results here. And keen beans can download the Nielsen data and take a look for yourself. Newspaper Comparatives Q4 2009 – Q3 2010

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