Fairfax continues its online push, brings magazine brands into Stuff ecosystem—UPDATED

It’s no secret Fairfax is reorienting its business around digital—and, specifically, mobile—with Stuff as the central pillar of that strategy. And while managing director Simon Tong recently told us in a fairly candid interview that the magazine division had largely been left to its own devices, its main magazine brands have now been swallowed by that content-hungry beast stuff.co.nz.  

NZ Life & Leisure, NZ House & Garden, NZ Gardener and Cuisine are now all housed inside the Life and Style category, NZ Fishing News and The Cut are now inside the Sport category and NZ Autocar is in the Motoring category. Links to the websites of each of those titles now redirect to Stuff (World magazine looks to be one of the few to retain its own site). 

Fairfax was contacted for comment about the strategy of putting these magazines into the Stuff ecosystem yesterday, but we have yet to talk to anyone about it. But given Tong’s desire to give consumers content the way they want it and get its staff to stop worrying about the format—and given Fairfax’s desire to continue rising up the rankings of the most-visited website list—it does fit with the strategy and it isn’t entirely surprising to see it happen.

UPDATE: Duncan Brough, commercial manager, magazines, said in a statement: “Our Fairfax Magazines titles moved their online presence into Stuff.co.nz earlier this month, allowing significantly larger audiences to enjoy quality lifestyle magazine content. Readers continue to access their favourite magazine online in exactly the same way as they previously did, though the content is now housed on stuff.co.nz. With a Stuff monthly audience of 1.849 million, there is the potential for advertisers to reach many more people, and for readers there are additional features such as contributing to Stuff Nation.” 

As Tong said when asked how the magazine business was affected by the News Rewired process: “You’ve got to be doing what’s right for the region and doing what’s right where Kiwis come together … So, for The Cut, what we try to do with them is say they don’t just play golf, they probably do some other things too. So how about we look at that and see where we can engage them, and what part of the country they live in.”

It’s thought those in the magazine division are none too pleased about the changes because, as one source said, it totally subjugates the magazine brands and, by using a templated approach for each title, runs the risk of affecting the often quite personal attachment readers might have with a particular title. Maybe their colleagues in the newspaper division who have already gone through something similar will be able to offer some solace. But as Tong said: “I’ve said ‘guys, stop getting bent out of shape about how they consume the content, that’s their business, not yours.Your job is to give them content they’re willing to engage with’. You don’t want people telling you which supermarket to shop at or which type of milk to buy, or whether you buy online or in a store. That’s the change. We are organising the place so that we are far more flexible so we can deliver content in the right place at the right time. It’s pretty basic.”

Newspapers and magazines have both felt the chilly digital breeze blowing on their bank accounts in recent years. But magazines have been more stable and the industry bods are at pains to point out that the two mediums are very different. In New Zealand, magazines and magazine ad spend have held up better than most other developed markets and, in some (rare) cases, like NZ Life & Leisure, readership and circulation are going up. In general, however, the audience is moving in a similar direction to that seen with newspapers and, despite a belief that tablet apps could a saviour a few years back, that hasn’t eventuated. 

Tong said that you have to defend the traditional heritage business while you’re building the new one, so at some point you’re going to have to cannibalise your own business. And, in keeping with the philosophy of Steve Jobs who killed one of the most successful products ever to make a better one, Tong would also rather do that himself than let someone else do it.

“If I crank it up and get amongst it I probably get a bloody nose on the way through but I’ll get there. Otherwise it’s denial. [Relying on print] sucks up value from the business and that can’t be put into digital.” 

While Bauer still operates standalone websites for most of its magazine brands, it has also moved towards the hub approach recently. It is set to launch a number of new hubs like foodtolove.co.nz and hometolove.co.nz, which will bring content from different brands together. Content from Woman’s Day and NZ Woman’s Weekly (as well as relevant stories from Next, The Listener and North & South) are also being brought together and added to the gossipy power of Bauer’s global titles with womensweekly.co.nz. Conversely, one of its early hubs, fashionandbeauty.co.nz, now redirects to the new FQ website. 

Chief executive Paul Dykzeul has admitted it was behind the eight ball when it came to digital, but it’s growing quickly and trying to make up for lost time with a $1.2 million campaign to promote its revamped digital assets. And he has also said publicly that newspapers giving away their content for free was a mistake. Bauer, like many publishers, has tried to protect its paid-for circulation, but it is relaxing that slightly, and a fair chunk of its paid-for magazine content is now going up online and being made accessible for free (often after an issue comes off sale, as is the case with Metro’s digital strategy). As a result, it has, like the newspaper industry, been focusing on talking up its combined audience across print and digital. 

Brough says the main goal is to ensure the content is available to consumers how they want it, not how Fairfax wants it, which has been the major shift in thinking at the company recently. He says it will be a managed process with regards to it distribution strategy, with some content used to stimulate desire through, for example, teasing the launch of a new awards scheme or a house featured in an upcoming issue. It will also run content when the magazines are off-sale. But he is hopeful that if it puts the content in front of the huge audience Stuff has grown over the years, it could also get people to subscribe to the magazines if they love the content.  

He believes it’s a necessary step to put the content online and when asked if this could cannibalise the paid sales and eat into the distinct personality of each of the brands—and the often quite personal connection subscribers have to the titles—he believes they can stand on their own and show their distinct personalities through the quality of the content, even though each magazine now conforms to the Stuff template.  

Brough says it’s a shame not to use “the big beast of a platform” it has created.

“I am confident in this and if they see it, hopefully they keep coming back for more.”

He says this is all about trying to grow magazine readership and Stuff readership at the same time. That’s a tough challenge that a range of other publishers around the world have been grappling with. So it will be interesting to see whether Fairfax can have its cake and eat it too. 

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