The Age currently has an average weekday circulation of 196,250, increasing to 292,250 on Saturdays (in a city of 3.8 million). The Sunday Age has a circulation of 194,750.
According to The Age, the paper currently has a Monday to Friday readership average of 658,000, reaching an average of 1,049,000 on Saturdays. The Sunday Age attracts an average of 666,000 readers.
Ebenezer Syme was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly shortly after buying The Age, and his brother David Syme soon came to dominate the paper, editorially and managerially. When Ebenezer died in 1860, David became editor-in-chief, a position he retained until his death in 1908, although a succession of editors did the day-to-day editorial work. In 1891 Syme bought out Ebenezer's heirs and McEwan's and became sole proprietor. He built up The Age into Victoria's leading newspaper. In circulation it soon overtook its rivals The Herald and The Argus, and by 1890 it was selling 100,000 copies a day, making it one of the world's most successful newspapers.
Under Syme's control The Age exercised enormous political power in Victoria. It supported liberal politicians such as Graham Berry, George Higinbotham and George Turner, and other leading liberals such as Alfred Deakin and Charles Pearson furthered their careers as Age journalists. Syme was originally a free trader, but converted to protectionism through his belief that Victoria needed to develop its manufacturing industries behind tariff barriers. In the 1890s The Age was a leading supporter of Australian federation and of the White Australia policy.
After Syme's death the paper remained in the hands of his three sons, with his eldest son Herbert Syme becoming general manager until his death in 1939. Syme's will prevented the sale of any equity in the paper during his sons' lifetimes, an arrangement designed to protect family control but which had the effect of starving the paper of investment capital for 40 years. Under the management of Sir Geoffrey Syme (1908-42), and his chosen editors Gottlieb Schuler and Harold Campbell, The Age failed to modernise, and gradually lost market share to The Argus and to the tabloid The Sun News-Pictorial, although its classfied advertisement sections kept the paper profitable. By the 1940s the paper's circulation was smaller than it had been in 1900, and its political influence also declined. Although it remained more liberal than the extremely conservative Argus, it lost much of its distinct political identity.
The historian Sybil Nolan writes: "Accounts of The Age in these years generally suggest that the paper was second-rate, outdated in both its outlook and appearance. Walker described a newspaper which had fallen asleep in the embrace of the Liberal Party; "querulous," "doddery" and "turgid" are some of the epithets applied by other journalists. It is inevitably criticised not only for its increasing conservatism, but for its failure to keep pace with innovations in layout and editorial technique so dramatically demonstrated in papers like The Sun News-Pictorial and The Herald."
In 1942 David Syme's last surviving son, Oswald Syme, took over the paper. He modernised the paper's appearance and standards of news coverage (removing classified advertisements from the front page and introducing photographs, long after other papers had done so). In 1948, convinced the paper needed outside capital, he persuaded the courts to overturn his father's will and floated David Syme and Co. as a public company, selling 400,000 pounds worth of shares, enabling a badly needed technical modernisation of the newspaper's production. A takeover attempt by the Fairfax family, publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), was beaten off. This new lease on life allowed The Age to recover commercially, and in 1957 it received a great boost when The Argus ceased publication.
Perkin's editorship coincided with Gough Whitlam's reforms of the Australian Labor Party, and The Age became a key supporter of the Whitlam government which came to power in 1972. Contrary to subsequent mythology, however, The Age was not an uncritical supporter of Whitlam, and played a leading role in exposing the Loans Affair, one of the scandals which contributed to the demise of the Whitlam government.
After Perkins's early death in 1975 The Age returned to a more moderate liberal position. It supported Malcolm Fraser's Liberal government in its early years, but after 1980 became increasingly critical and was a leading supporter of Bob Hawke's reforming government after 1983. But from the 1970s the political influence of The Age, as with other broadsheet newspapers, derived less from what it said in its editorial columns (which relatively few people read) than from the opinions expressed by journalists, cartoonists, feature writers and guest columnists. The Age has always kept a stable of leading editorial cartoonists, notably Les Tanner, Bruce Petty, Ron Tandberg and Michael Leunig.
In 1966 Macdonald took the fateful step of allowing the Fairfaxes to acquire a stake in the paper, although an agreement was signed guaranteeing the editorial independence of The Age. In 1972 Fairfax bought a majority of David Syme shares, and in 1983 bought out all the remaining shares. David Syme and Co. became a subsidiary of John Fairfax and Co. Macdonald was denounced as a traitor by the remaining members of the Syme family (who nevertheless accepted Fairfax's generous offer for their shares), but he argued that The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) were natural partners and that the greater resources of the Fairfax group would enable The Age to remain competitive. By the 1980s a new competitor had appeared in Rupert Murdoch's national daily The Australian. In 1999 David Syme and Co. became The Age Company Ltd as part of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd., finally ending the Syme connection.
The Age was published from offices in Collins St until 1969, when it moved to its current headquarters at 250 Spencer St (hence the nickname "The Spencer Street Soviet" favoured by some critics). Recently The Age has opened a new printing centre at Tullamarine.
Currently there are two editions of The Age printed nightly. The NAA edition, for interstate and country Victorian readers and the MEA edition, for metropolitan areas. These two editions are printed in three separate editions, the earliest for country and interstate readers, the second edition for metropolitan and the final late edition THA, also for metropolitan areas carrying late or breaking stories not covered in the first two editions.
Friday's edition of the newspaper now includes a racing liftout which includes extended form and analysis for Saturday's major race meetings.
Like its Fairfax stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), the Age announced in early 2007 that it would be moving from a broadsheet format to the smaller Berliner size, in the footsteps of The Guardian and The Courier-Mail.. Both the Age and the Herald dumped these plans later in the year without explanation, to the amusement of The Australian's Chris Mitchell, who called the about-face "a bit embarrassing".
In 1972 Fairfax bought a majority of David Syme shares, and in 1983 bought out all the remaining shares.
Since the 1980s The Age, despite the loss of its corporate independence, has remained a successful and influential newspaper. Under editors such as Creighton Burns and Michael Gawenda, it has attracted a range of high quality contributors. The research efforts of the "Age Insight" team have broken a number of major stories. Its arts and lifestyle content - increasingly important in all newspapers as the leading role in news coverage is lost to television and the internet - is generally regarded as comprehensive. Its sports journalism is also extensive, although it does not try to compete with The Herald Sun in volume of sports coverage. Its classified advertising section remains the foundation of its business model.
Nevertheless The Age is under challenge, as are all major daily newspapers, from new trends in media. Its dependence on classified advertising for a large part of its revenue makes vulnerable to the growth of online classified alternatives such as Seek, realestate.com.au and eBay, plus various offerings from Telstra subsidiary Sensis such as The Trading Post. The Sydney media magnate Kerry Packer, now deceased, long considered to be interested in acquiring Fairfax, was reportedly no longer interested because of this and had extensively invested in online competitors of The Age.
In 2004 Gawenda was succeeded as editor by British journalist Andrew Jaspan. Jaspan aroused controversy by initially not appearing to know that The Age was published in Melbourne, sacking Gerard Henderson, a prominent conservative columnist, from the paper and by making remarks critical of Douglas Wood, an Australian who was held hostage and tortured in Iraq. Jaspan accused Wood on ABC radio of being boorish and coarse for speaking harshly about those who kidnapped and tortured him.
Following the appointment of Andrew Jaspan as editor, The Age has taken a prominent campaigning role in relation to some issues, for example by launching a campaign Free David Hicks (a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay) in February 2007, and in relation to global warming
According to the Guardian newspaper, former Fairfax chief executive Fred Hilmer wrote in his memoirs that "He confessed that he struggled to cope with a left-leaning editorial culture at papers such as the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and The Age, and was surprised that journalists saw themselves as advocates rather than simply reporters. Hilmer said "Fairfax's default position was to turn left and be agenda-driven... Journalists often conducted campaigns where they persisted in covering stories long after readers had lost interest.