Up the apples and pears to dream of a new national daily

That rare commodity, a print readership statistic, puts a measure on how much work Antony Catalano might have to do if he wants to reprise ambitions for the Canberra Times as a national newspaper.

So much has changed since Kerry Stokes' watch in the 1990s, and in any case it would be wrong to get bogged down with print circulations in this digital age.

For the record, this month's Roy Morgan readership figures put the Canberra Times' Saturday figure at 46,000, a long way behind the Weekend Australian's 539,000, a lot for Catalano to catch up. Perhaps a better hope would be Morrie Schwartz' The Saturday Paper (117,000) which a proprietor of my village shop says is "everything The Australian isn't". Another small parcel, but refreshingly so, perhaps.

Stokes' experiment with the appointment of Michelle Grattan was frustratingly short, and lacked sufficient management support. And re-reading Andrew Rule's biography of Seven West boss Stokes, you'd have to be intrigued by the idea that he would ask advice of Murdoch lieutenant Ken Cowley on that appointment. How reliable, how impartial would be the recommendation of former Age political correspondent Grattan to take his newly-acquired ACT daily national, while Murdoch was spending big to build The Australian.

It didn't work of course - didn't have a chance to work - and after Stokes passed the paper to Rural Press boss John B. Fairfax, replete with new manroland press and renovated print centre, the national capital daily reverted to its owner's provincial city mindset.

Growth today for the Canberra Times - or some other iteration Catalano might care to give a name to - could of course come quickly online, as it has for the New York Times, the Washington Post (much mentioned in this context) and lately, the South China Morning Post.

Worth remembering that some of the development strength of the last-mentioned two comes from owners with tech and e-commerce knowhow, and seemingly bottomless pockets.

That said, Catalano has already beefed political content and reinstated its Canberra gallery presence. Print covers are heavily local news, but the website - which includes a 'public service' section - is still more general, while probably needing more sectionalisation. Federal politics (where Grattan is still a columnist) is four sections below local on the news page, but ahead of that for ACT politics.

With Murdoch aiming to keep him on his toes in every other area, probably the last thing Catalano needs is a battle for the hearts and minds of the nation - perhaps he and backer Alex Waislitz could do a deal with Morrie Schwartz - or maybe that won't be necessary.

Catalano has already been talking about clever digital solutions and leveraging the reach of ACM's countrywide newspapers nationally and, as suggested, could be the man for it.

The newly-released Morgan stats do pose the question of how to compare apples with apples when the tray is peppered with pears.

With difficulty, it seems, when the country's 'most-read' titles are a couple of supermarket magazines available or handed-out at the checkouts of Coles (4.57 million) and Woolworths (4.08 million).

How do you compare that with third-placed - and highly-promoted by its Seven TV programme - Better Homes & Gardens (1.69 million) or the 921,000 of a NSW motoring association's Open Road, mailed out to members.

A couple of more traditional products - the monthly Women's Weekly (1.39 million) and National Geographic (1.25 million) - are in the top five, but then we're back to retail magalogues with the hardware store's Bunnings Magazine (1.18 million).

These sold and free magazines need also to be viewed alongside those inserted in newspapers, typically at the weekend. Check Good Weekend, which - even with the year's 21.6 per cent fall - still goes out to 819,000 readers of Nine's The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, and the 539,000 of the Weekend Australian Magazine (also down 9.7 per cent on a year ago).

The big winners here have been AFR's Boss Magazine which increased its readership by 17 per cent to 179,000, News' The Deal up 9.2 per cent to 71,000 and SA Weekend now with 239,000 readers, up 8.6 per cent.

Good things can come in small parcels, with the upmarket and very glossy Wish, which goes out monthly to 170,000 readers of Friday's Australian, worth a mention. At the other end of the scale, newspaper-inserted TV guides have always seems a cheap product, but they add up, as in the case of News' Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald-Sun and (both Brisbane and Adelaide) Sunday Mail products, which total 1.295 million.

NIMs readership can also be a means to an end, as in the case of News's new AgJournal for which readership of 126,000 is claimed... launched no doubt in a bid to keep Antony Catalano's former Fairfax agricultural newspapers in what Rupert Murdoch would see as their place beneath News' Weekly Times.

With ACM's considerable combined circulation, maybe that is a game Catalano can also play.

Peter Coleman

Read more from:
Comment   Email   Print
Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: