Fairfax feels the fear, rings changes to prepare for multi-platform future

Fairfax Media has announced it will be making some sizable changes to its organisational structure in an effort to adapt and prosper in a world where convergent, digital and multi-platform media rules the day. But the New Zealand media operations, it seems, won’t really be affected.

In what seems to be a fairly logical decision, given the the fact that humans are increasingly getting their news digitally, one of the major structural changes in Australia will be merging Fairfax’s print and online operations into one business unit, to be called the Metropolitan media unit. There will be a eight other separate business units, which is a reduction of two from the current 11. Once Kiwi-owned auction website TradeMe and Digital Transactions have got the call-up. New Zealand Media remains as a separate entity.

Brian McCarthy, Fairfax Media’s global chief executive, said the changes come after a comprehensive review of its Austalasian operations.

“Media companies around the world are facing unprecedented change in technology, consumer behaviour and market fragmentation [check this graph out to see some evidence of that],” he said in a statement. “These are exciting times for media and in order to take full advantage of them, Fairfax is embracing change to become a truly integrated, multi-platform company.”

However, the changes affect Australia more than New Zealand, says Fairfax Media New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams.

“The bulk of the changes envisaged in this new organisational structure will apply to Fairfax’s metropolitan publishing business in Australia. New Zealand publishing will not be changed in any substantive way,” he says.

This may be the case, but the purpose of the changes is to “take advantage of the myriad opportunities presented by the multi-platform world”, says McCarthy, who then adds this includes charging for content “wherever possible, particularly for online and emerging platforms”.

“The jury is still out as to whether pay walls will work for general news,” McCarthy told BusinessDay.com.au. “But those sites attract strong advertising revenues and are also important drivers for our transactional businesses. Charging for online and mobile content is one of the most hotly debated issues in the media today, and there is not one media company to date which has been able to develop a ‘catch all’ solution.”

News International figures released recently claimed a “total paid audience” of 200,000 for UK newspapers The Times and The Sunday Times after a paywall was implemented in July. It said the signs were ‘encouraging‘ and showed large numbers of people were willing to pay for quality journalism. Not surprisingly, a few of its ‘get your news for free’ competitors thought otherwise and didn’t believe the figures added up to a new business model.

Charging for online content is a change that would affect both Australia and New Zealand. And, with McCarthy’s soundbites, it sounds like it could be on the cards. So, what do you think? To pay or not to pay?

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