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THEY CAN’T GIVE IT AWAY: The Age’s genuine sales in freefall despite giving away more free samples than Sunsilk

confuciusaged The dying cling to the smallest things to give them hope. So right now, it’s the little things that mean a lot at the Aged.

On our story about the Herald Sun’s towering sales performance this week, a number of VEXNEWS commenters posted assertions about recent audited circulation numbers as evidence the Age wasn’t quite doing as badly as everyone is saying.

Hmmm. Latest ABC figures show 2H weekday Herald Sun sales down 2.8%, Age up slightly.

We don’t want to make a big thing of this, but some of the commentators seems much closer students of the figures than the average VEWNEWS reader.  You may not have noticed that last quarter’s newspaper circulation figures were published today, and the Age’s sales were indeed “up slightly”, by no more than 100 copies.

But it wouldn’t be a Friday if we didn’t take this opportunity to have another slap at our Fairfax friends, because if an extra hundred copies is the best they can do in the most recent audit period, then they really are in diabolical trouble.

That’s because it is well known their numbers are massively inflated artificially with a range of disguised giveaways and deals calculated to give advertisers a false impression of the people who really are buying the paper to actually read it.

For example, take their official claim, published today, that they sold 204,200 copies for each weekday of the last audit period.

Now subtract the following scams that we know about (and if there’s anyone else out there who can add more, please feel free… it shouldn’t be hard because they give away more free samples than Sunsilk)

■ Bodgy partnership with Melbourne Footy Club.  Good for an extra 3,000 copies per day, 7 days a week

â–  Bodgy partnership with StKilda Footy Club: Good for an extra 7,000 copies per day, 7 days a week

â–  Very bodgy partnership with National Gallery of Victoria: Good for at least 500 copies per day, every day of the year that the Gallery is open

Which means that their claimed 204,200 copies is more like a real 193,700.  Take away their 130,000 home delivery subscribers, and the age is actually selling around 63,000 newspapers.  Which is, no doubt why, little things mean a lot at the age.

One correspondent has added this one too which could well represent thousands of dodgy “sales”:

Your excellent story about the age left out one very dodgy dodgy thing which is the $25 deal for students – pick up your paper on campus during the week, free home delivery on the weekends, all year. And believe me, those copies aren’t read – there’s student housing across the road from us and we get our weekend papers from there, because there’s always a giant stack out the front and none of them ever collect their paper…

They’re right too, $25 for the year. All counts as a genuine sale too. More than a 90% discount!  Bernard Madoff would be proud.

How long will The Age get away with this scam on advertisers? It is a breathtaking and audacious fraud, performed in full public view. Could you imagine their breathless coverage if some other business conducted itself in such a downright dishonest way?


Added to those desperate attempts to inflate circulation numbers is a cavalcade of freebie incentives offered to those who agree to submit to receiving the newspaper for about $1 a day or at the heavily discounted rates available to students, football club members and others of as little as 50c per week.

Just since January this year, in a desperate attempt to hang on to a dwindling number of inner-city subscribers they have inundated – indeed harassed – with more freebie proposals than could even be conceived by the membership taskforce of the Australian Democrats (RIP).

In that time The Age has given away for nothing to express their desperate gratitude to their dwindling number of subscribers:

Charles-Rose â–  Five thousand dollar diamond pendants (tested as genuine by Spencer Street inmates who scratched in the building’s few windows “WE’RE FARKED”;

â–  Literally thousands of tickets for preview screenings of films like Easy Virtue (starring Leonie Wood and her sherpa lover), Last Chance Harvey, Milk!, Vakyrie, Revolutionary Road, a fashion doco In and Out of Fashion, Gran Torino and rare opening night seats at the Comedy Festival.

â–  Very expensive luxury cruises on the “High Artic”;

â–  Trips to that day spa in Hepburn Springs due to open sometime before the next Essendon Premiership;

â–  A free horse racing form guide (to assuage the anger of those who’d been denied it after last year’s scrapping of the thing)

â–  Tickets to MTC’s Poor Boy! (perhaps a reference to the parent company’s biggest shareholder John B. Fairfax who is on the verge of insolvency we hear),

â–  and, perhaps most appropriately of all considering the greying demographic of Age readers, a free Essential Guide to Retirement Communities.

That’s just what they’ve laid on since New Year’s Day.

Last year’s spread of bribes to subscribe runs to hundreds of freebies.

There’s just one catch. You have to agree to the Age being delivered to your home. A considerable sacrifice, we concede.

STOP PRESS:  Then, of course, there’s the age’s ultra bodgy bumper edition lurk, where they publish two very similar papers on two successive days, both of which carry the same publication date – usually a Saturday, so that they can count two days’s papers as one). This year, by having two bumper editions at Xmas time (that is, four bodgy edition in all), they have probably boosted their Saturday circulation numbers by around 30,000 copies per day, we’re told by someone who knows (and they don’t work for the Herald Sun).  So, as compared with their claimed Saturday circulation of 296,750, the real figure is more like a very tragic 266,000.  And shrinking.


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  1. Andy, fair facts on Fairfax relayed via senior staff at broker freshly briefed by Fairfax board member:

    * Expect 100 more editorial positions to be chopped over 12 months, it could be worse if we have a recession like UK & US. The savings they need to generate are not in the millions but in the tens of millions, that’s how deep we’re talking here. Similar cuts expected at News Ltd.

    * McCarthy has a major slash and burn plan being workshopped right now. He’s not liking what he sees at The Age in particular. Many cuts expected there. Deep cuts especially there. Things are desperate.

    * More cuts in Business expected and in other sections that aren’t pulling their weight or deliver no readers. Green Guide safe, everyone else browning pants.

    * Fairfax board meeting next two weeks. And the financial results shortly after. Market expects catastrophic, might not be as bad as that but still not great, requiring some very deep cuts to save the company in the medium term.

    * Fairfax Digital might be completely scrapped, as a failed experiment, forcing the print journos to do online as well, making them work more than part-time in some cases.

    * Age/SMH/AFR APH gallery should merge before June 30, plenty of ‘redundancies’ there, some long overdue IMHO

    * Fairfax sub $1 is the widespread short-term price expectation, one analyst has picked 50c in 2H. It has some good assets but basically Rural Press paid too much for shit like The Age and Herald. From big mistakes like that do big liquidations flow.

    Posted by Fair facts on FXJ.AX | February 13, 2009, 17:41
  2. 500 jobs to go across the FXJ stable is the word.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 13, 2009, 20:13
  3. I’m a regular Age buyer. Buyer – not reader. Every Thursday like clockwork. Get The Age at the checkout, put the Green Guide on top of the TV. Put remainder, unread and unlamented, directly in the recycling bin.

    Posted by Walter Plinge | February 13, 2009, 20:39
  4. As a student of Melbourne University in the late 90s and early 2000s, I recall the Herald-Sun effectively giving away copies to students.

    They made for a great distraction during our less than interesting lectures.

    Posted by Anon | February 16, 2009, 10:55