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Panpa Bulletin : February 2006
30 | PANPA BULLETIN February 2006 TECHNOLOGY MATTERS STEPHEN QUINN The past can sometimes help when we try to move forward. Such as when we consider the decline in reading of print newspapers on weekdays over the past half century. The idea came to me while re- searching daily newspaper circu- lation decline in the United States between 1950 and 2004. I won- dered how the situation applies in Australia. In 1950 America had 1,772 daily newspapers with a combined cir- culation during the week of 53.8 million, in a population of 151.5 million. By 2004, the number of dailies had dropped to 1,457. The interesting relationship was the total circulation, plotted against the rise in popu- lation. By 2004 the com- bined circulation on any week day had risen to 55.1 million -- a rise ofamere2.4percent-- whereas the population had increased to 292.2 million(92.3%). That is, the combined circulation on any week day has remained al- most static while the nation's population has almost doubled. People are getting their news and information from other media as well as newspapers. We know that of the 18-24 and 25- 34 demographics are reading news online, or watching television. How does Australia compare when we do the straight compari- son over half a century of daily newspaper circulation matched against population growth? It was not possible to do a national anal- ysis because of a shortage of data for the 1950s. The 1954 Census put the popu- lation of Australia at 8,986,873 (though this total did not include full-blood Aborigines). The Aus- tralian Encyclopaedia for 1958 remarked that newspaper circu- lation reached their highest peaks in the mid 1950s, because of the boom in population after World War II. In 1955 in the six state capitals, Australia had 16 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 3,388,962. The combined popula- tion was 4,816,986. Jump forward halfa century and Australia's population was 20.4 million and those same six state capitals (population 12,391,140) had 10 daily newspapers with an average Monday to Friday circula- tion of 2,288,450. That is, in half a century the population in the six state capitals had risen 257 per cent but average weekday circula- tion had dropped by a third (32 per cent). Thank goodness for weekend news- papers. The par- adox here, too, is the surge in profits in the past few years despite circulation declines. It is interesting to break the data down by capital city, to ap- preciate how steep the decline has been. For this part of the analysis, I looked only at readers aged 16 and older. It should be noted that peo- ple aged 15 and under represented a larger chunk of the population in 2004 compared with 1954 (18.9 per cent versus 4.8 per cent). Circulation figures came from the May 2005 edition of the Panpa Bulletin and population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Percentages were calculated by dividing the population aged old- er than 15 by the average weekday circulation. For example, in Bris- bane has 1,439,436 people 16 and older and the average weekday circulation of the Courier-Mail is 207,983, which gives us 14 per cent. Data for the two national newspapers were included in the figures for Sydney. In 1954 seven in 10 adults read a daily newspaper in Sydney dur- ing the week. Half a century later the figure was one in five. In Melbourne and Brisbane in 1954, four in five adults read a daily newspaper during the week. By 2004 the figure was one in four for Melbourne. Brisbane expe- rienced the biggest drop, with one in seven people (14 per cent) reading a newspaper. Is Brisbane the market in which to start a dai- ly newspaper? Seven in 10 people read a daily newspaper during the week in Perth in 1954. Half a century later just over one in six read a paper (17 per cent). Hobart appears to have been the most successful in maintaining readership levels. In 1954 one in two people read a daily newspaper. By 2004 it was three in 10. The reasons for the decline are well known, and many. My reason for writing about these figures is simple: to point out that audi- ences have fragmented, and will continue to fragment. Associate professor of journalism Deakin University, Victoria Why have dailies circulations on weekdays declined over the past half a century? Readers halved while population has doubled Audiences have fragmented, and will continue to fragment. Read All About It! Photo: Fairfaxpixs