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Fairfax looks to consolidate its regional newspapers; may share printing presses with News Corp

Fairfax Media is looking for more opportunities to consolidate regional mastheads within its Australian Community Media (ACM) business, CEO of the publishing company Greg Hywood has said.

Hywood: the publisher will look for opportunities to consolidate within ACM.

Hywood: Fairfax will look for opportunities to consolidate within ACM

The comments, made by Hywood on an investor call this morning, come amid reports the company is considering selling its regional newspaper business, with the Fairfax CEO telling analysts it was “looking at all the opportunities” when asked about a potential sale or merger with News Corp’s regional business.

“With over 200 titles and if there are consolidation opportunities in there down the track will will certainly take them,” Hywood told investors.

“We are in a strong position and that is essentially through the cost work that we have done,” he added, noting: “The issue for the publishing business is sustainable revenue and we are looking at all the opportunities available to improve the revenue performance of that business.”

Hywood did not directly address speculation that the company might look to sell its ACM business, which today posted earnings of $74.3m, but the comments come just a day after The Australian reported that Fairfax is considering a sale of its regional newspaper business.

Fairfax

Hywood was also asked to expand on comments he made today, signalling that the day would come where Fairfax ceased to publish on weekdays for titles such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. 

“In terms of digital only publishing, we have been pretty clear that we will do it when it is beneficial to the business and when it meets consumer demand,” he said. “Looking at these results we are not there yet but inevitably we will be.

“Our duty is to maximise the cash we get out of (print). Having said that we are spending our time, energy and focus on building our business model and when the time is right (closing print) is what we will do.”

The Fairfax CEO was also asked about ongoing speculation that Fairfax and its rival News Corp may seek to share printing presses, in an attempt to reduce costs on newspapers.

Hywood responded by emphasising how Fairfax had moved away from a broadsheet to a “compact” tabloid sized newspaper, telling investors it now had the capacity to gradually scale down its print operations.

“In terms of printing services the industry is focused on this,” he said. “The industry is at different stages. I mean, we were very early in closing our big plants and we got massive benefits to the business by acting early.

“We have not got a mix of printing assets that we can scale down. If there are opportunities to work with others, we will and we are. I wouldn’t call it massive scale at the moment but we working within the industry to rationalise printing resources as we speak.

“This is a continuing conversation and opportunities arise as the businesses changes.”

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