Fairfax unveils first look at compact Age and SMH

Fairfax Media has today unveiled the details of its long-awaited move to a compact format for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age which will see changes for both readers and advertisers in the newspapers and online.

How the new SMH will look

The move comes in ten days time, ending more than a-century-and-a-half as broadsheets for Fairfax’s two flagships.

The sports section will move to the back of the newspaper and the font size will increase by 10 per cent to make them more readable.

There will also be two new sections. Pulse – covering health, science and personal wellbeing – will appear in The Age on Mondays and the Herald on Thursdays. The Shortlist will replace the Metro section and appear on Fridays.

The homepages of the SMH and Age will also be redesigned ahead of the move as the company prepares to move to a metered paywall that will begin with next month for international readers and later this year for domestic readers.

For advertisers the changes will see the implementation of 14 standard advertising shapes and Fairfax’s rate card pricing will stay broadly the same despite the smaller format.

The redesign has been led by Fairfax metro’s editorial director Garry Linnell who was keen to emphasise that while the new “compact” print format might be tabloid in size the tone of Fairfax’s coverage would not change.

“The tone can’t change”, said Linnell. “There is a reason we aren’t using the t-word because it has connotations in the Australian market of changing your tone and is reminiscent of those red-top tabloids in the UK.”

In a briefing this morning Linnell detailed how the changes had been driven by consumer research which used both neuroscience and eye-tracking to measure the effectiveness of ads under the previous broadsheet and new compact formats.

“The overwhelming reaction from readers have been one thing – ‘what took you so long?’,” said Linnell.

“They’ve been complaining about the actual physical size of the paper for some time.”

“There are some readers obviously who like to stretch out with a coffee and enjoy the broadsheet but the overwhelming number have said it needs to be more compact and more user friendly, particularly for the commuter market.”

smh reader

Fairfax says its research suggests the new format provided a 22 per cent higher reader engagement with advertising and a 50 per cent increase in visual attention. The company has used this research to justify its decision to charge the same rate card under the new format as the old.

Media agencies and advertisers have resisted the move arguing they purchase ad space based on column centimetres and therefore should be charged less under the changes.

Fairfax commercial director Ed Harrison said that while there was resistance among agencies, overall they were on board.

“We negotiate every day with agencies around many many variables and the reality is all the conversations we have are based on those variables,” said Harrison.

“Nothing in those we have had discussions is insurmountable and the vast majority of our advertisers have been involved in these discussions for many months.”

Fairfax began discussions with media buyers about the changes 18 months ago.

“We have huge confidence that they are well and truly on board with this,” Harrison said.

Fairfax today also announced that BMW Australia would be the launch sponsor for the new compact editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age along with the websites on the day.

BMW will use the launch of the compact editions to advertise its new compact car the generation BMW X1.

“The size of our papers is changing, but the quality certainly isn’t,” said Harrison. “Given this, we couldn’t have asked for a better launch partner than BMW. We’re extremely pleased to have them on board” he said.

Overall, Fairfax is keen to emphasise to advertisers that it is reaching its audience across multiple platforms be it print, web, mobile or tablet. It points to its launch sponsorship with BMW as example of how the company will ‘Metroblock’ across The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

It also said that it was committed to print so long as the model was profitable.

“I wouldn’t buy into the hype about the imminent death of newspapers,” said Harrison.

“These are huge products, they are enormous, there are 600,000 readers a day for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. They are big products bought in large numbers and that’s simply not going to change overnight.”

“We do acknowledge there is a long term decline, but no one can put a timeframe around that, and the point at which the papers become unprofitable… we will remove them,” he said.

“But that time could be a very long way away.”

Nic Christensen 


  1. Encyclic!
    22 Feb 13
    12:20 pm

  2. If only there was a way to measure advertising in print as a percentage of the total space available and charge as such!

  3. Horton
    22 Feb 13
    1:17 pm

  4. Oh look! They’re trying the turn-the-broadsheet-into-a-boring-tabloid strategy.

  5. Peter
    22 Feb 13
    1:26 pm

  6. Considering their most upmarket product – AFR is this size, it is quite bizarre they didn’t do this a long time ago. Considering the compact was introduced more than 5 years ago in the UK, it beggars belief they continued with the unwieldy size until now. But then, nothing surprises me about the titanic that is Fairfax. Bring on the Guardian Australia website, to be honest…

  7. Al Johnston
    22 Feb 13
    1:28 pm

  8. The sport section is already at the back of the newspaper.

    When has it ever been anywhere else?

  9. Ann
    22 Feb 13
    1:35 pm

  10. Paywall wont work, people will go to free news sources

  11. Sports
    22 Feb 13
    2:09 pm

  12. Actually Al, it has been on the back out of the business section for a while now (which is a liftout, not the back of the paper).

  13. Graham
    22 Feb 13
    2:11 pm

  14. I’m guessing that the paywall will be measured in dollars (metered), rather than length (metred…)

  15. Ian
    22 Feb 13
    2:13 pm

  16. Can you please call it what is – a tabloid-sized edition. The word “compact” is a nonsense.

  17. Tim R
    22 Feb 13
    2:32 pm

  18. The integrity of tone is the critical thing for these brands – and they need to think more and more like real brands as they evolve from aggregators of generic content to value-adders to it. I can’t see improving the functionality of the product does anything other than improve user appeal.

  19. jeff megahan
    22 Feb 13
    3:18 pm

  20. I’m torn. Part of me doesn’t like it, and part of me doesn’t care about any of this at all.

  21. Lindsay.
    22 Feb 13
    3:47 pm

  22. If it looks like a tabloid, has tabloid content, reads like a tabloid, is intended to appeal to tabloid readers, is the size of a tabloid, it is a tabloid.

  23. Al Johnston
    22 Feb 13
    3:52 pm

  24. The SMH produces 29 or 30 sections a week. At present, six of those sections are still in broadsheet form, defying the global trend. Soon, there will be just one broadsheet section a week. It’s not that big a deal.

    Sports, we can split hairs on definitions, but I don’t see Business as a liftout. It’s section 2 of the daily paper _ with Sport at the back.

    The real issue for the SMH is ludicrously early deadlines. Soon there will be just one edition a day, deadline either 7pm or 8pm depending on your source. Editor will have discretion to stop presses for breaking news, but a proper 2nd edition or Metro edition? Forget it. And if you’re a sport fan in this era of night games, you can really forget it.

    How long for print? A year? I’m happy to read the Herald on the iPad, but that shift to digital will represent a real break with the past.

  25. muscledude_oz
    22 Feb 13
    4:52 pm

  26. So they managed to squeeze the old SMH masthead onto a tabloid page after all. Doesn’t look like they had too much trouble, either.

  27. Alex
    22 Feb 13
    5:07 pm

  28. I like the way it looks.

    Very similar to The Times UK….but with much worse editorial!!

  29. Tim
    22 Feb 13
    5:15 pm

  30. Ann – I agree as soon as the paywall goes up I seek alternative sources and I think that if a paywall is cheap enough it will possibly work. 99cents a month works for me !

  31. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rineharts Lovechild
    22 Feb 13
    6:04 pm

  32. @jeff +1
    Best comment. Ever.

  33. derrick
    22 Feb 13
    6:10 pm

  34. looks good

    the paper was massively oversized anyway

    how many of the worlds leading titles were that big?

    just catching up really

  35. Nash
    22 Feb 13
    8:46 pm

  36. Pay wall will kill fairfax’s killer asset – it’s online mastheads. Give a ******* about this silly paper

  37. Sally R
    22 Feb 13
    10:25 pm

  38. Hope it goes well, am truly mystified by negative comments here. Reading hard copy of SMH,landing on unexpected stories I wouldn’t’ve clicked on, still makes me feel more alive. Small screens are beginning to take their toll on my eyesight and I don’t seem to be the only one.

  39. Tim
    22 Feb 13
    10:34 pm

  40. Goodbye Fairfax.

  41. Harry Helvetica
    23 Feb 13
    9:47 am

  42. The trouble with Fairfax? Too many overpaid senior execs, too many kids straight out of uni — and not enough middle-level journeymen to curb the worst instincts of both. Look at that front page. What a travesty!

    Why? Well….

    1/ The huge masthead locks up the top of the page, meaning it can’t used for skyboxes serving as ad spaces or promo boxes for inside content.

    2/ because the current boxes are under the masthead, editors will never be able to lay a deep-edge pic over the masthead, as tabs have been doing for sixty years

    3/ The masthead should have been a boxed “floater”, with “Sydney Morning” as a superscript and “Herald” in the major gothic font. Editors could move the box around according to whim and need.

    4/ The mock-up has two front-page stories, but only one theme. It should have one lede story, one art element and one other, unrelated story down the gutter. No reason at all for Hartcher’s “analysis” to be on the front. It’s a sidebar and should play against the jump on an inside page.

    This front page brings to mind some Edwardian missionary sitting down to dinner with the natives and being offering a steaming plate of giraffe testicles or somesuch unfamiliar fare. The poor fellow will eat it and make a pretense of being enthusiastic, but he’s not comfortable, and never will be, with this new strange world into which it has been his misfortune to be consigned.

    That’s why Fairfax lobotomised brains trust will try to make up for that by filling the inside pages with lots and lots of more of the same — kiddies writing about how climate change will kill us all, did-you-know-Tony-Abbott’s-a-Catholic? and a posse of parliamentary sketch writers all saying the same thing and using lots of first-person pronouns in the process. In other words, the same content the market has rejected, and rejected, and rejected.

    If Fairfax’s consolidated IQ exceeded Greg Hywood’s waist measurement — and he’s a skinny guy, remember, if you don’t run the tape measure around the pocket with the wallet in it — they would have revamped the papers as a direct challenges to the Tele and Herald Sun, especially the latter, which has gone down like a crack whore since Murdoch palace politics saw Bruce Guthrie fired.

    In Melbourne there is an open niche for a decent, bright-but-not-stupid tabloid, one which could snatch 100,000 sales away from the Hun. This product won’t do it, but no surprise there.

    After all, when has Fairfax ever been presented with an opportunity and exploited it?

    Prediction: The Age will be dead by Christmas. The Silly Moaning Herald may linger a little longer.

  43. Science
    23 Feb 13
    2:28 pm

  44. There is a higely funny story in the newspaper works this week. Linell explaining how they tested the design by strapping some sort of monitoring on the heads of readers. Really.
    They pay these people to come up with this shit.
    Will hywood get fired? Or corbett? Probably both, but they will fight like crazy to go last.

  45. Grow Up
    23 Feb 13
    4:01 pm

  46. @Harry. I recognise a bitter old (probably unemployed) subbie dinosaur when I see one. Probably one of the deadbeats The Age booted last time around…

  47. Hary Helvetica
    24 Feb 13
    7:47 am

  48. Grow up: You couldn’t be more wrong. Happily and lucratively self-employed for quite a few years now, not a cent of my income drawn from ink and paper. Never worked for the Age, but know quite a few people who do, or rather, did.

    It’s telling that you regard people who know their craft as “dinosaurs”.

  49. grow up
    24 Feb 13
    11:57 am

  50. @Harry. Sorry to have assumed that your snarky comments implied you were unemployed. My mistake. And yes, now that you mention it, in media, I have generally found that people who describe their job as a “craft” are, in fact, dinosaurs.

  51. Crying Wolf
    24 Feb 13
    4:27 pm

  52. @Grow up: you clearly are a nitwit. @Harry: you clearly need to get a life.
    What’s revealing is the timing. It comes a day after dismal results and a presentation by the management that shows zero strategy. Nothing.
    And, like all half baked newspaper editors, when in trouble: RE-DESIGN!

  53. Lindsay.
    25 Feb 13
    1:46 pm

  54. Some interesting comments on the SMH design Harry Helvetica. But you have missed an important fact. The product being sold is The Sydney Moring Herald, not a skybox, a promo box or a major story. They are all just part of what is being sold within the SMH. So putting the masthead in a floating box would diminish the value of the product, as would change the relationship of the words which are part of the name. Sure it might be fun to do different graphic designs everyday, but graphic design – when used properly – should be used to enhance what is being sold, not give a designer a job.

  55. Antiquated Medium
    25 Feb 13
    2:21 pm

  56. Are we all back-peddling into primordial ooze?

  57. Hary Helvetica
    25 Feb 13
    2:37 pm

  58. Grow up: I’ve generally found people who refer to journalism — the simple business of turning up, taking notes, and re-phrasing them — as a “a profession” to be precisely the sorts who think magic glasses and re-packing crap in a tabloid, er, “compact” format are all that is needed to gull the punters into re-animating a terminally ill franchise.

    When you have finished admiring your earlier comments, a word of advice: don’t eat the biscuits.

  59. Reader of the news
    6 Mar 13
    11:25 am

  60. I am not liking the new look website. It is too busy. I haven’t clicked past the homepage since it’s launch!

    I can’t figure out if it is because it is too busy, cluttered and therefore confusing?

    Or is it because half of the stories wouldn’t look out of place in The Daily Telegraph?

    Who is at the helm of the digital editions at Fairfax? Do they have a decent news publishing background? My gut says they do not.