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.”
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.”