Fairfax pushing for early tabloid switch

Tabloid-sized editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age may roll out as early as this year, according to Fairfax Media’s new chief operating officer, David Hoath.

Originally scheduled for 4 March 2013, the resizing – part of the Fairfax of the Future plan released last month – will provide a more “reader-friendly” format that Fairfax has positioned as an investment in print rather than a retreat to digital platforms.

“We’re absolutely committed to print, it is a critical part of our future strategy,” Hoath told AdNews. “The compact-sized mastheads will roll out by March at the latest, but it’s possible within the next six months or by the end of the year. I think we’re open-minded about the launch date. If we can get everything aligned this year, why would we wait?”

Hoath said there was no hard launch date for the roll-out. “We’ve actually got nine months, but we want to get it out to market as soon as is practical,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work already but there’s still work to be done – it’s not as simple as just redesigning the papers’ layouts.”

The resizing is going ahead after an abortive attempt to shave 7cm off the width of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age five years ago fell through when the global financial crisis hit.

“Australia is one of the last markets worldwide that still does broadsheet newspapers,” Hoath said. “We know from years of research resizing to compact would be welcomed by readers, particularly on weekdays. We’re confident this move will be a popular one.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel. Broadsheets all over the world have already gone to a compact size. We’re simply re-configuring our print products to a format more convenient for most readers.”

Fairfax Metro Media commercial director Ed Harrison said new page rates were yet to be decided. “We’re talking about the ad rates and to the market about it,” he said. “We’re looking at shifting to modular ad rates rather than the cost-per-inch model.”

MediaCom head of implementation, planning and investment Nick Keenan told AdNews: “There will be some recalibration of the rate card. When you go from broadsheet to compact size, there is a 50% reduction in centimetres. You aren’t going to ask advertisers to pay the same price for less space.”

OMD head of publishing Simon Davies said while ad space would be cheaper, it was less about page space and more about audience. “Newspaper rates are built on column space but our audience analysis is based on audience reach. Ultimately, we’re buying an audience and we don’t see that audience changing. But with less column inches to buy, effectively space would cost less,” he said.

This article first appeared in the 13 July 2012 print edition of AdNews.

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