Weekday editions of SMH and Age may ditch broadsheet format

Switching the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to a tabloid or midsize format are back on the agenda under Fairfax Media’s new management, Mumbrella can reveal

Although no decision has been made, Jack Matthews, CEO of the company’s metro division, told Mumbrella that he would be surprised if the Monday to Friday editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age remained in broadsheet format.

Asked in a video interview with Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes about whether there would be a change, Matthews said: “Possibly. Certainly we’ve had a fair amount of feedback, for a long time I suspect, that the big broadsheet is not a convenient way to consume news.”

The move to midsize was first mooted in 2007 following the successful transition of a number of papers in the UK which all saw circulation uplifts. The Independent and The Times moved to a tabloid size, and The Guardian switched to a midsized Berliner format. Matthews said he had been looking at overseas models.

He said: “I’ve just finished a little bit of a tour of the US and the UK. I only found one broadsheet newspaper anywhere I went, which is the (UK-based) Telegraph. Clearly if the New York Times and the Guardian and the Times of London , the Washington Post… can go more narrow and not damage their brand values, clearly that’s something we should look at.”  

After the GFC struck,  resizing was put on hold. While a switch from broadsheet to tabloid is relatively straightforward, moving to Berliner requires a greater investment in reconfiguring presses.

Citing “commercial realities”, Matthews said: “The Berliner is a nice format. Most people I talk to would probably agree that’s the ideal combination of broadsheet brand values and convenience. Your presses have to be able to do that, but I’m not sure we’re in a position to be investing tens of millions of dollars on printing presses right now.”

He added: “I personally would be surprised if into the future the Monday to Friday Age or Herald were broadsheet. But I don’t want to suggest there’s been a decision.”

There is currently intense speculation that News Ltd and Fairfax Media have been discussing the sharing of print facilities.

Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood was also asked about the question of resizing when he was interviewed at last week’s Mumbrella360 conference. He said: “My view is that the issue is around the journalism and the content. There’s nothing magical around the format. There’s issues that validate the broadsheet model, there’s issues of convenience that validate a smaller model. This is the thinking that we have to do. We’ve passed through a business model and engaged in a new one. And we make no apologies for thinking these things anew.”

A further isue is that ratecards need to be renegotiated with advertisers – many would be likely to argue that the price of a full page ad would need to come down because of its reduced size and impact.

Asked about consulting with advertisers, Hywood said: “You don’t blow your brains out over these things, you do whatever works.”

In the video interview, Matthews also ruled out paywalls. He said: ‘You won’t see a paywall in the commonly understood view of paywalls.” He said there would instead be a “nuanced” approach to charging for certain pieces of premium content and this would be the smallest part of the company’s online revenue.

In the interview, Matthews also discussed:

  • Why the new Age and SMH iPad apps are closer to a news magazine than a newspaper
  • Why he hopes for more than 100,000 downloads of the new SMH and Age apps (3.45)
  • Why focusing on different platforms is an old world view (4.54)
  • How the public understand that is an entirely different brand to the newspaper edition of the Herald (6.10)
  • Why traffic is more important to the company’s transactional revenue than a paywall would be for other revenue  (8.12)
  • Why readers who want free content may need to accept “intrusive advertising” (11.42)
  • Why the role of the new national editor – who was announced last night as Garry Linnell – to create a central pool of content, is about effectiveness, not cost saving (13.15).
  • Rebuilding editorial morale after the “painful” subs cull (15.00)
  • How he wants an “egalitarian rather than “command and control” culture (16.31)
  • Potentially reformating the metro papers (16.58)



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