Last April Fairfax was all abuzz, with news that its unwieldy broadsheets, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald would be trimmed down to look like the sleek New York Times.

At the time the CEO of Fairfax Media, David Kirk, told staff and advertisers that “size does matter” and that the time had arrived to give “readers what they keep telling us they want: a slightly narrower broadsheet so that they can spend more time with our newspaper.”

Nine months later and it appears that the readers could be disappointed. Although the re-size was scheduled for the first half of this year, early indications suggest the plan has been placed on a go-slow – and fingers are being pointed at Rural Press, the notoriously stingy company Fairfax merged with after the re-size was announced.

The advertising industry journal, B&T, has put the threads together by talking to advertising insiders about the Fairfax plans. The pony tail crowd should know a bit about this because creatives need long lead times to format their advertising for newspapers. They need to know what size the newspaper is so they can design those arty photo spreads and settle on the right font for the text. Apparently this can take up to twelve months, which may explain the fees they charge.

Fairfax was all over its advertisers before and after its public announcement to make sure they were happy with the decision to go to a narrow broadsheet format. But since then, there’s been lots of silence. No consultation, thigh slapping or pep talks, even though Fairfax knows how keen the advertisers are about being informed.

Simon Davies, the head of print at media buyer OMD told B&T that all had gone quiet. He seemed a bit miffed, complaining “it would be good to hear something on that front.” It was a stark contrast to his reaction to the news last year when he enthusiastically told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Business Day that the narrow broadsheet “is certainly a strong format” and that “the changes are in line with the whole move to more portability and ease of use.”

So why is Fairfax keeping its advertisers and media buyers in the lurch? Could it be that the infamously niggardly culture at Rural Press is infusing the corridors of Fairfax Media? With former Rural Press CEO, Brian McCarthy, placed in charge of Australian print and magazine operations, it’s understandable that there’s speculating that the slow-down is the result of the merger.

Fairfax spokesperson, Bruce Wolpe, assured B&T that Fairfax didn’t want to alienate its advertisers but did little to dispel the speculation that the delay was due to the Rural Press merger. “There was no definite timeframe for the downsize that could be shared with anyone,” he said. “The time is not right and when it is we will let them know.”

Peter Fray

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