Sunday, October 16, 2016

SPH Newspaper Circulation Numbers - How Bad Exactly Is It?

SPH (SGX:T39) has just announced its Full Year 2016 (Sep 2015 to Aug 2016) results last Friday.

Plenty of news articles and blogs have been writing about:
·         Profits are also going down

So I am not going to go into such details, and interested readers can click on those links above.

But, my question is how bad exactly the trend of decline of readership in the major SPH publications is?

More importantly, how bad is The New Paper doing, such that the organisation decided to merge (read: close) it with My Paper?

Curious about the details, I decided to look it up. Here’s a table that I have compiled for the various major newspapers that SPH publishes. SPH does not report the current circulation of My Paper and it is free anyway, so not quite comparable with the rest of their major newspapers.

(Source and methodology will be explained at the end of this article)

The table lists the daily average newspaper circulation from 2006 to 2015. I have also pulled out the best year and worst year within this 10-year period for each of the papers; and compared 2015 with it.

So we can see that Straits Times is actually still not doing so badly! Though it is on a general decline trend, the drop is not that big and even seen a slight rebound last year.

More surprising is the performance of Business Times, which has improved much more compared with 2006 and more or less held steady in recent years. But because of the small readership, Business Times is only the seventh most read and less than 10% of the readership of Straits Times.

However, for Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao, New Paper and Berita Harian, we can see that almost all of them have a straight downward trend from 2006 to 2015. New Paper is particularly worst, losing also 40% of their readership in these 10 years.

Here’s what it looks in a chart and the decline is more apparent. I didn’t include Straits Times in the chart because the line would be much higher than the rest, making the details of the rest hard to see.

You can see that back in 2006, Shin Min, Wanbao and New Paper had similar circulation numbers. But while Shin Min managed to grow some before dropping back to their 2006 levels, Wanbao and New Paper’s circulation only continued to drop.

So yes, this is a challenging time for the media and publication industry, but its impact on the different publication is not the same. While Straits Times remains (sort of) resilient as the flagship publication, Lianhe Wanbao and New Paper seems to be the worst hit over the past decade.

All in all, SPH has more or less been able to defend the readership of their major publications, and is probably already better (or less bad) than other major newspapers overseas, owing to their monopoly in certain market segments of the media industry in Singapore. They have also done well in increasing the unique digital subscriber numbers for ST, BT and LHZB, which will likely be the key for them to help cushion the lost in print subscribers. The battle forward will be to find a way to monetise the digital eyeballs which so far has really been a question that baffled media organisations around the world.


Source and methodology:

Numbers are taken from SPH’s annual reports from 2006 to 2015.

The numbers might be slightly different from what is published. For example, in SPH AR 2015, Straits Times’ circulation is 481,700; including 304,300 print and 177,400 digital. However, at the bottom of the page, there is this line that says “The Straits Times / The Sunday Times unique digital subscribers: 60,871”. Hence, I took 304,300 and 60,871 to come to the number of 365,171; instead of using 481,700. This is to eliminate the digital subscribers that also subscribe to the print versions, and hence will be double-counted in the larger number, even though that is indeed in accordance of the rules by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Also, in earlier years, the numbers of the Sunday version and the weekday versions of various papers are reported separately. So in order to maintain comparability, I took a weighted average of the weekday numbers and the Sunday number. (Daily average = (Sunday number + 6 x weekday numbers) / 7))

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