The scale of the threats facing the bumbling Fairfax newspaper organisation were on full display today, with its two biggest competitors – News Corporation and Telstra – rolling up more tanks on to the lawn of the once-great publisher.

As predicted in Crikey Daily on 18 May – and reported in today’s Australian Media section – News will launch its free daily commuter newspaper MX in Sydney and Brisbane this year:

The free Melbourne commuter newspaper MX is to be transformed into a national brand with local editions in Sydney and Brisbane before the end of this year.

MX, which targets commuters aged 18 to 34 with an edgy, celebrity-led mix of news, sport and entertainment content, is published by the Herald and Weekly Times, a subsidiary of News Limited, publisher of The Australian.

The new editions are expected to launch in Sydney soon, using the editorial production resources of the Melbourne paper.

Media buyers were told two weeks ago that the launch was planned for next Monday, 4 July, but it is understood last-minute distribution issues could delay the date. Talks were being held late yesterday between News Limited, Sydney City Council and City Rail representatives and further discussions are likely before the issues are resolved.

And over at Telstra’s advertising directory arm, Sensis, comes the news that it’s moving in on the $2 billion recruitment ad market with an online joint venture with the founders of Australian recruitment group Morgan&Banks – as this story in today’s SMH explains:

Telstra’s directories and advertising business, Sensis, has made its long-awaited entry into the $2 billion recruitment market, announcing an online joint venture with the founders of Australian recruitment group Morgan&Banks.

The joint venture, called LinkMe, will operate separately from Sensis and Morgan&Banks Investments, a private investment vehicle owned by Geoff Morgan and Andrew Banks.

LinkMe will have its own board, and is expected to break even within two years, with forecasts that by then it will account for 7% of online job placements – which equates to 140,000 jobs.

CRIKEY: Fairfax has no answers to moves like this – or, rather, it has one answer: cut costs. That’s the wrong answer for a company that’s facing a pincer movement of threats on its classified ad base and its ability to attract a younger readership. The new chief operating officer, Brian Evans, is regarded as a solid, cost-cutting newspaper manager – the ideal person to run Fairfax throughout all its history except now.

Fairfax doesn’t have the skills to counter moves like the two announced today by News and Sensis. Any attempt to compete with the News free tabloids will be costly, embarrassing and silly – just like the company’s ill-fated attempt to enter the free commuter daily market in Melbourne when MX launched.

This will get bloody.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey