The Roy Morgan newspaper readership figures for the 12 months up to June were released on Thursday. You wouldn’t have read about them as, for the main part, they were unremittingly depressing.
True, there were a couple of odd bright points — both The Daily Telegraph and the Adelaide Advertiser put on Monday to Friday circulation over the period — but otherwise they told a tale of decline.
More than anything though they illustrated the grim effects of Fairfax’s sad, slow suicide.
The Weekend AFR, for example, now only has 30,000 readers more than left-wing property developer Morry Schwartz’s latest offering, The Saturday Paper. Presumably what remains of the newspaper buying public is realising that there’s no need to buy an anti-business business paper when a straight-out anti-business option is available.
But nowhere is the impact of Farifax’s deliberate policy of self-harm more evident than in the Monday to Friday readership of what once were the two titans of the Australian newspaper scene, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
They now attract less than a million readers between on weekdays; less than a million readers despite supposedly serving states with a combined population of over 13 million, more than half the nation.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Monday to Friday readership fell 2.72 per cent to 501,000 over the period.
The Age’s dropped by a more alarming figure, nearly nine per cent, from 531,000 to 485,000. The paper that was conned by its own kiddie contributors and put their jokes about “bucolic socialist” hipsters on the front page as the embodiment of Melbourne now has a weekday readership more than 43 per cent lower than its rival across the Yarra, The Herald Sun.
There is not just renewed speculation Fairfax will end the Monday to Friday editions of its Sydney and Melbourne papers, but investor pressure to act.
By turning their backs on mainstream values, spitting in the faces of the readers who supported and trusted their titles for generations in pursuit of the fickle favour of inner-city trendies and their sea-change, tree-change cousins of the coast and country, Fairfax has not only destroyed billions in investor capital but depleted the social capital of the nation.
Its newspapers no longer speak with authority. Instead of acting as checks on power, they are wide-eyed crusaders for the latest fashionable causes. That’s when they bother to provide more than infotainment, writing on pop culture and lifestyle and listicles. Gravitas has been abandoned for an adolescent sensibility. Soon two once-great mastheads will just be part of the infinite jumble that is cyberspace.
The readership figures illustrate the magnitude of Fairfax’s follies.
But we should also consider the wider damage done.