The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures for our newspapers make grim reading for Stuff. There were no figures last year because of Covid.
Overall, what they show is Stuff’s fleet of papers, from Southland to the Waikato, have lost a devastating third or more of their subscribers over the last three years. They can’t blame Covid as in contrast, the independently owned Otago Daily Times lost only 12% while the Wairarapa Times Age, with a passionate owner, lost a mere 2.55%.
Those two do not insult their readers with a ludicrous diet of maori wonderfulness and call New Zealand Aotearoa. Instead they present actual news rather than predictable wet woke opinion.
Still, all credit to Stuff for allowing the ABC to audit their sales as opposed to the New Zealand Herald which ducked out and instead published totally fictitious “readership” numbers, something they can’t possibly know.
So against these devastating numbers how is Stuff hanging on?
One answer is their eminently sensible approach of producing the same newspaper in format and content for the entire fleet while maintaining small journalist teams for each to provide some local news. Thus, their seven dailies’ sales (and freebies) when combined, total just over 100,000, a viable figure for the New Zealand print media scene, at least for now.
That said, my pick is the future subscriber erosion rate will increase sharply as their traditional life-long habitual newspaper readers (virtually everyone half a century ago) die off.
The cold hard fact is the average forty year old, and everyone younger, have never held a newspaper. And why would they given today’s instant electronic access to news as it’s happening, something newspapers can’t compete with.
Doubtless, Stuff are planning to emulate the Herald and offer a package combining the paper and access to their web-site. The day they do will see a dramatic drop in their web-site usage, exactly as happened to the Herald. But the Herald stuck to its guns, gradually reducing over two years, access to free news, and their readers were eventually forced to come to the party.
Unfortunately that raises another danger. What if readers say, if I have to pay then one will be enough as it will, and opt for the Herald which I suspect their North Island newspaper readers would mostly do. They comprise 60% of the current subscribers and that would be the end of Stuff.
Whichever way one looks at it, basically they’ve got no future, but sadly that’s true of print media everywhere.