Fairfax admits it sees a digital-only future – but not yet

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 11 August 2016

Fairfax Media is continuing on its journey to digital-only publishing, but only when consumers and the business is 100% ready, says the company's CEO Greg Hywood.

Hywood was speaking on an investor call yesterday after the business revealed its full year financial results which saw it report a net loss after tax of $893.5 million.

Fairfax has highlighted its transition previously and it was reiterated again in the companies annual report, with Hywood saying it has never shied away from the fact its publishing businesses are on a print to digital journey - adding that it has made significant progress in making them sustainable for the long term.

He also said that it should come as no surprise that for its Australian Metro Media (ARM) titles, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, that the seven-day-a-week print model will eventually give way to weekend-only, or more targeted printing in the case of The Australian Financial Review.

“This trend is already occurring globally. Exactly when we move towards implementing this new model depends on the view we form about trends in consumer and advertiser behaviour,” he said.

However when questioned on this shift on the investor call, Hywood said: “We'll move to digital-only publishing when it's beneficial to the business and when it meets consumer demand – we're not there yet – but we will be.”

“Currently we're trying to maximise our cash, but we are investing a significant amount in creating this [new] model – it's not something you can flick a switch and it's on,” he added.

As part of the results it was reported that the company's ARM division saw its advertising revenue fall 15%, Hywood, put this down to weakness in the retail, communications and finance categories. This ad revenue loss was however offset by the growth in ad revenue seen by its digital ventures, which rose by 36%.

The publisher is also heavily focused on alternative revenue streams, with a main one being its property player Domain. Of Domain, Hywood said in the annual report that high on the publishers propriety list is growing the offering.

“We continue to invest in Domain to grow and extend its business beyond listings to capture the immense opportunities in the broader real estate ecosystem.”

On the investor call, the publishing boss also weighed in on the current media reform debate, saying: “We keep an eye on it, but it's not a top of mind issue for us, we're not interested in buying free-to-air TV. We believe in reform, and we believe in an equal playing field, but it's not an immediate issue.” Adding however: “We like to keep our options open for what ever may come”.

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