Some stories and thoughts around Fairfax, The Age, and 3AW

There is probably not a person in Australia who is not aware of the rapidly declining fortunes of the Fairfax group. The newspaper business seems to be in an irreversible death spiral…

Story One – The Man from The Age 

I vividly recall being at a presentation that a senior person from The Age was making very early in my marketing career – roughly around the time when they had commissioned the new printing presses. The question I posed to him was around the physical difficulty reading a broadsheet presents to the consumer and why they did not take the opportunity to move to a tabloid format.

The response I can still hear : “Mate, serious newspapers come in a broadsheet format”. He went to move on to the next question from the group, but I am not a shy person… and I made sure he was listening to my follow up question.

“Umm, are you saying The Financial Review is not a serious newspaper? I would have thought the quality of your content defines whether you are serious rather than the shape. Have you ever tried reading The Age on the train or whilst you are trying to eat breakfast?”

I am pretty sure no-one had asked him that before – he sorta “hurrumphed” and continued to move on… I knew then that they were in big trouble. The Age is a terribly inconvenient format – the advertising space tends to be on the bottom half of the page, and the top of the page is miles away when you read “at the table”. Only people who have complete disregard for anyone within 2 metres reads The Age on public transport – it is large, unwieldly and has the page turning “circle” of the Titanic.

Story 2 – Fairfax and The ABC

It is a fact that The Age leans left, politically. It is a fact that The ABC leans left, politically. What’s the problem with that? A really big one actually. They are both chasing the same target market. One team has a massive advantage though – they do not have to sell anything to fund their activity and pay the bills.

I suspect The Age’s audience is being siphoned off by various ABC ventures – both in the digital and “paper” worlds. This is really going to hit hard when The Age has to charge for web access. Why pay $5 per week to read The Age online to read news that meets your political preferences when you can get it from The ABC for free?

3Aw doesn’t suffer so much, because it has middle to right appeal politically and in terms of the issues it covers. 3LO attracts the more left audience – but 3AW is not in direct competition for the same listeners.

The Herald Sun has no such problems – there is no real right leaning newspaper alternative that is funded by taxation.

Imagine competing with a business that gives everything away for free, and does not need to sell anything to stay afloat? Nightmare…

Story 3 – 3AW Bobbing like a cork in the ocean

Cracker Barrel made a fair investment in 3AW media space in 2011. I got to know the guys at 3AW pretty well – highly recommend them if you are chasing men 45+ as a marketing target!

One of the guys there shared with me that Fairfax was looking to offload 3AW to focus more on the digital and online space. I was completely suprised by the comment. Think about it…

  • Radio is not an easily substitutable form of entertainment. People usually choose to listen because they are doing something else with their eyes. Watching the footy, driving the car, filling out paperwork at work.
  • Verbal entertainment is deliverable via radiowaves or the internet – it does not change the content. 3AW is creating great content for their target market. Podcasts are continuing to grow in popularity. Radio content is perfect for the digital space… I listen to the footy via 3AW on the internet regularly… Streaming media is perfect for selling advertising on – much better than a banner ad on a website.
  • 3AW is one of the few winners in the Fairfax stable as far as I can tell, with a continuing bright future.
  • Digital is only going to make “radio” content more valuable, not replace it.

So there you go. I am not making any calls on the relative merits of the content provided by The Age, The ABC, The Herald Sun etc – just trying to sum up some of the business issues surrounding Fairfax.

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2 Responses to Some stories and thoughts around Fairfax, The Age, and 3AW

  1. Jacqueline says:

    I think it was The Independent in the UK which, in the early 00s, made the swap (or maybe it was an addition?) to a tabloid format, despite still hosting broadsheet content. Improved sales, the same content.

    The Age hasn’t been able to make the jump to a modern lifestyle, and judging by all the comments about problems with the iPad app, nor to the digital world.

    Where will you get your news from Damo?

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