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National Geographic readership spikes with special ‘Planet or Plastic’ environmental issue

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), Oct. 2012-Sep. 2018. Average annual interviews n=50,208
New research from Roy Morgan shows the National Geographic’s special June “Planet or Plastic” issue featuring a plastic bag in the shape of an archetypal iceberg with 90% of the ‘stylised’ plastic iceberg submerged beneath the surface of the ocean has led to a surge in readership for the venerable title amongst Australian readers.

Over 1.7 million Australians read the National Geographic June issue. This was the highest ever monthly readership of the National Geographic easily surpassing a previous high reached when a special 125th Anniversary Collector’s issue was released in October 2013.

Readership of the National Geographic has been trending upwards in recent years since reaching a low of 972,000 in the 12 months to March 2015 and the magazine has consistently had a readership of over 1 million for most of the past three years.

The Australian Geographic, which is now owned by documentary production company Northern Pictures based in Sydney, has also built its readership impressively in recent years. The Australian Geographic was read by 568,000 in 12 months to June 2018 and has consistently had a readership of over 550,000 over the last two years.

Roy Morgan’s latest readership figures are based on personal interviews with over 50,000 Australians over the last 12 months including around 4,000 interviews per month. The full Roy Morgan September 2018 readership figures will be released next Thursday November 8.


Readership of National Geographic & Australian Geographic (2013 – 2018)

National Geographic June Edition - Plastic or Planet - Record Readership

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), Oct. 2012-Sep. 2018. Average annual interviews n=50,208


National Geographic appeals to younger Australians under 40 years old

Although the National Geographic is one of the oldest magazines available and was first published in September 1888 over 130 years ago, the magazine is performing most strongly amongst younger Australians.

Over half of the Australian readers of the National Geographic are either Millennials (27.5%) who are now aged largely in their 30s or Generation Z (24%) who are now teenagers or aged in their 20s

There were slightly more Baby Boomers (19.5%) who were readers of National Geographic than those in Generation X (18.4%) and a further 10.7% of readers of National Geographic are now categorised as Pre-Boomers born before 1946.


Profile of National Geographic readers by Generation – 12 months to September 2018

National Geographic Readership by Generations - 12 months to September 2018

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), October 2017 – September 2018, n=50,377.


Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan, says the huge spike in readership for National Geographic after highlighting on its cover one of the world’s largest environmental problems shows it is possible to increase readership by utilising iconic imagery:

“New Roy Morgan research shows the National Geographic’s June edition with a cover featuring a largely submerged plastic bag in the style of an iceberg captured the imagination of the Australian public and caused a huge increase in readership for the magazine.

“A record of over 1.7 million Australians read the National Geographic’s June edition beating previous record highs including a big increase in readership for the special 125th Anniversary Collector’s issue released in October 2013.

“The powerful response to the cover shows that environmental issues resonate strongly in Australia and this isn’t surprising when one considers that nearly two-thirds of Australians (65%) agree with the statement that ‘At heart I’m an environmentalist’. That’s over 13 million Australians that are a potential market for magazines focused on leading environmental issues.

“However, it would be wrong to ascribe the success of the National Geographic down to one iconic issue. The National Geographic, and Australian-based counterpart Australian Geographic, have both seen increases in readership in recent years even as the broader magazine market has faced an increasing challenge from the Internet.

“The key to the success of both magazines is their ability to reach new audiences. The National Geographic has strong readership across all age groups however it is younger Australians under 40 years old who are the most likely to read the 130 year old magazine.

“Over half of the National Geographic’s readership is either Millennials (27.5%) or Generation Z (24%) and the two youngest generations are more likely to read the National Geographic than their older peers in Generation X or the Baby Boomers. This is despite in-depth Roy Morgan research showing younger Australians use, and trust, the Internet and social media far more than older generations – explored in detail here.

“Roy Morgan’s comprehensive Single Source survey of over 50,000 Australians each year allows publishers and advertisers to drill deeply into the readership data of Australia’s magazines and newspapers and understand the drivers – such as a catching magazine cover or an innovative promotion – that can drive increased readership across key demographics.”


Roy Morgan’s full September 2018 magazine and newspaper readership results will be released to the public next week on Thursday November 8, 2018.

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