Closing weekday metro titles is just responding to consumer habits, says Fairfax CEO

Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood has vowed to lift the quality of its digital product as he reiterated his intention to close the publisher’s metro week day editions.


Greg Hywood: “We are responding to consumer demand by matching what they need”

He told a conference it was clear that readers are consuming news online during the week and buying newspapers, when they have more time to read them, at the weekend.

Losing Monday to Friday mastheads would simply be responding to consumers’ reading habits, he added.

Hywood, speaking hours before won national/metropolitan website of the year at the PANPA Newspaper of the Year Awards, suggested the way in which news is delivered online is still “digital 1.0 across the western speaking world” and said Fairfax was committed to lifting the quality and engagement of its digital product.

Hywood’s steadfast resolution to axe weekday metro titles followed comments by Will Lewis, the chief executive of News Corp-owned Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, who warned media firms not to walk away from mastheads in their key home cities.

To desert newsstands would “cut yourself off from that very special physical and emotional connection with your public”, he said.

Hywood, who first raised the prospect of axing its weekday metro titles in May, rejected the idea that Fairfax was walking away from print, but was responding to the habits of its readers where they consume news online during the week and turn to the printed word at the weekend.

Sydney Morning Herald


He added that 80% of its readers now access its content online.

“The response we got (from consumers) was, ‘like, der, that’s the way we operate, we get our news and information digitally during the week and we have got time at the weekend’,” Hywood said. “Our consumers have the time, which they don’t have during the week, to take a high-quality, deep printed product on the weekend. That’s the way we see it and that is what they are telling us.

“We are responding to consumer demand by matching what they need.”

Hywood added that Fairfax operates under the conviction of ‘when’ the business model will change, not ‘if’.

Although a timeframe for the demise of the weekday editions has never been made public, speculation has suggested the publisher could move ahead before the end of the year.

Sitting on a panel with News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller and Seven West Media CEO Chris Wharton at the NewsMediaWorks Future Forum conference, Hywood said Fairfax was committed to lifting the quality of its digital product.

“Our organisation is now committed to moving from, frankly, digital 1.0 product in the market across the western speaking world, to lifting the quality and engagement of that digital side and on the print side giving our consumers the print product that they want and that they have time to read.”

Latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for the March to June quarter showed the week day issue of the Sydney Morning Herald dipped below 100,000 copies after an 8.2% decline in the same period last year. The Age fell almost 8% to 92,481 while the Australian Financial Review saw a near 13% decline to under 50,000.

The weekend editions did not fare much better with SMH on Saturday falling 6.3% to 186,918, the Sun-Herald losing 11% to 188,806m and the weekend AFR declining from 62,643 to 53,121.

Earlier in the discussion, Miller agreed with comments made by Dow Jones’s Lewis, who said the industry should be talking more about “journalistic freedom, rather than journalism for free”.

“We should be confident that for 200 years in Australia people have been paying for our great content, and it’s only in the past 10 to 15 years that we have stopped doing that,” he said.

But with the emergence of video on demand services Stan, Presto and Netflix, the number of people who are prepared to pay for quality content “is bigger in this country than it has ever been”.

“We need to harness that and be confident of the fact that people will pay for great journalism,” Miller said.



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