Newspaper supplements are self-contained sections, additional to normal content, inserted into a regular issue of a newspaper.
Early Australian newspapers usually had a fixed number of pages; hence surplus material—whether advertising or editorial—was often handled by the insertion of supplements of two or four pages. Australia’s first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, founded on 5 March 1803, soon adopted this practice. It issued its first supplement on 27 November 1803. This mainly comprised news about the resumption of war with France. Thereafter, supplements were issued irregularly, but fairly often. The venerable Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s longest surviving newspaper, issued its first supplement with the issue of 19 September 1831, six months after the newspaper launched as the Sydney Herald. It was one page with a mixture of advertisements and news.
Supplements were also popular in the 19th century to summarise news to send ‘home’, covering the events of the past few weeks. These appeared regularly and were timed to coincide with the departure of mail ships to Britain. Supplements were also often issued with the latest news from Europe when arriving ships brought newspapers—especially from Britain.
Supplements were also used in metropolitan newspapers to commemorate major events—for example, exhibitions, the deaths of monarchs and Federation. Until illustrations became common in newspapers, supplements—which usually had longer production lead times—were often a means to provide pictures and diagrams.
In the late 19th century, advertising agencies produced supplements that were distributed to country newspapers. These contained features, such as serials and popular articles, as well as the all-important advertisements. Pressure was applied by the agencies on rural newspapers to carry these. However, these supplements were commonly regarded by newspaper proprietors as threats to their own revenue, as they competed for advertising. Countering these supplements was one of the early aims of the country press associations in some states. The Victorian CPA even pre-emptively produced its own supplement for members in the early 1900s.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, most newspapers included supplements. These were not designed as news, but rather as a means to attract advertising dollars. Indeed, their subjects range very widely. In 1927, the Sydney Morning Herald commenced its long-running and well-regarded annual economic review (from 1957 entitled ‘Australia Unlimited’). Being well supported by advertising, it was large. Today, supplements in metropolitan newspapers cover a wide range of topics, such as defence, motoring, the railway industry, travel, banking, cooking, restaurant guides—anything that will attract advertising. In fact, the editorial content of such supplements is usually written mainly to complement the advertising. Also common are supplements on major but predictable news events, such as election guides, election results, annual budgets, major horse racing carnivals, sporting, entertainment and cultural events. Some supplements—such as turf guides, food and real estate—appear weekly. Some magazines, such as Fairfax Media’s the(sydney) magazine (2003–13) and the(melbourne)magazine (2004–13), have been designed to attract high-end advertising.
The Good Weekend colour magazine was introduced into the Sydney Morning Herald in October 1984 (and the Age in 1985). Since then, glossy colour magazines have become a feature of all major newspapers at weekends.
Rural newspapers—especially those in New South Wales and Queensland owned by Fairfax Media and by APN News and Media—commonly include supplements. These are inserted into all titles owned by the group within a defined area. These add a wider range of news, features and, of course, advertising, to supplement that carried in the host titles. They add bulk and therefore are seen to add value to the host paper. Examples are Southern Weekly and Town and Country (Fairfax) and Rural Weekly (APN). Occasionally, these supplements are also carried by neighbouring titles owned by other companies. Similar supplements are produced in Victoria under the Farmer title by North East Newspapers.